“Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” - Luke 1:1-4
The following history of the Diocese of Providence was researched and authored by Fr. Robert Hayman, Pastor Emeritus of St. Sebastian Church in Providence. As additional entries are written, they will be posted here.
To contact Fr. Hayman, please write: Cathedral of SS. Peter & Paul, 30 Fenner Street, Providence, RI 02903.
The Beginnings of Catholicism in Rhode Island
Rather than observing its 125th anniversary in 1997, the Diocese of Providence might well be observing its 152nd. In 1843, when the Diocese of Boston, which had until then encompassed all of New England, was divided, the Holy See designed Hartford, Connecticut as the see city of the new diocese. The first Bishop of Hartford, the Vermont-born convert, Fr. William Barber Tyler, was a priest of the Diocese of Boston. Shortly after his ordination on March 17, 1844, Bishop Tyler was formally installed as head of the new diocese in Holy Trinity Church, Hartford, on Sunday, April 14, 1844.
Hartford at that time had a population of roughly 13,000, of whom between 500 and 600 were adult Catholics, and was centrally located within the new diocese. However, Holy Trinity was burdened with debt and there was little extra revenue to support another priest living in the parish. Providence, on the other hand, had a population of 23,000, of whom over 2,000 were Catholics. There were two churches in the city, SS. Peter and Paul and St. Patrick’s. SS. Peter and Paul was the larger of the two and was debt free. After talking the matter over with Bishop Joseph Fenwick of Boston, Bishop Tyler came over to Providence on the first Sunday of July 1844, and announced to the parishioners of SS. Peter and Paul his intention of taking up residence there in the small, three-room, wooden rectory behind the church.
When the American bishops assembled in Baltimore for the Sixth Provincial Council in May 1846, they supported the idea of a change in the seat and the name of the diocese. At the beginning of 1847, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith decided, with the sanction of the new Pope, Pius IX, to grant the petition for the transfer of the episcopal seat but chose to retain the name of Hartford as the title of new diocese.
The first mass celebrated publicly in the State of Rhode Island was the funeral of a French Admiral, the Chevalier de Ternay, which occurred shortly after the French fleet carrying soldiers to support the American Revolution, arrived in Newport in July 1780. There were relatively few Catholics in the state until several hundred Irish workmen were drawn to Providence by the rise of industry in the city occasioned by President Jefferson’s embargo and the War of 1812. In 1813, the Catholics among them rented an old wooden schoolhouse on the north side of Sheldon Street near Benefit for use as a church. The building was later moved to another lot and was destroyed in the Great Gale of September 1815. The devastation created by the hurricane and the opening of American markets to British goods after a peace was signed with Great Britain in December 1815 caused the Catholic population of Providence to shrink to seven by 1820.
When economic conditions in Rhode Island began to improve at the end of the 1820s, the opportunities for work created by the rise of Providence and other places in Rhode Island as commercial and industrial centers made the city and the state attractive to increasing numbers immigrants. Irish Catholics fleeing the economic upheavals and troubles of their native land began settling in the state along with a smaller number of English Catholics recruited in many cases by textile manufactures for their expertise in textile production. The Irish Catholics, who came to Providence before Bishop Tyler took up his residence in the city, came from many different counties and parishes in Ireland. Their religion and their culture set them off from native-born Rhode Islanders and their pride in their place of birth also divided them initially from each other. The Irish tended to live among and associate with immigrants from their own counties. The divisions within the Irish communities and their lack of resources made it difficult for the priests, who came from Boston and who eventually took up residence in the state, to gather the necessary monies to buy land and build churches.
Newport in the 1820s was one of the first places in Rhode Island to witness the coming of a substantial number of Irishmen. The Federal government embarked on a new phase of construction at Fort Adams in 1824. The need for laborers on the fort and in the nearby coal mines at the other end of Aquidneck Island in Portsmouth attracted several hundred Irish to island by 1827. Also by 1827 there were two to three hundred Irish in Pawtucket where the Dunnell Print Works and other textile mills there offered employment.
Since the Irish in both Newport and Pawtucket were anxious to have a church and mass, Bishop Fenwick, in January 1828, sent a young Virginian, Fr. Robert D. Woodley, whom he had known at the Jesuit college at Georgetown and whom he had recently been ordained a priest in Boston, to visit Newport and Pawtucket. Within the year, Fr. Woodley purchased an old schoolhouse on Barney Street in Newport and, on April 6, 1828, celebrated mass for the first time in what would be St. Mary’s Parish.
Also in 1828, after David Wilkinson, a prominent Pawtucket iron manufacturer and inventor, had donated a lot in the southern part of the village as a site for a church, Fr. Woodley oversaw the building of small frame church, also to be called St. Mary’s, in which he celebrated mass for the first time on Christmas Day 1829. Other places in Rhode Island visited by Fr. Woodley included Union Village near Woonsocket Falls, the coal mines in Cumberland, and the print works in the town of Cranston. Woonsocket and the village of Crompton in Warwick would in the 1840s become regular mission stations of the priests in Providence.
The Growth of Catholicism in Rhode Island: Bishop William Tyler
The early promise for the growth of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island faded quickly when the financial panic in 1828 brought about a depression in various parts of the country. Most of the Irish, for whom St. Mary’s, Pawtucket, was built, left to look for work elsewhere and the church remained closed and shuttered until 1835 when better economic times returned and attracted new workers to the town. As a result of the downturn in Pawtucket’s fortunes, the focus of Fr. Woodley’s successors in the Rhode Island missions shifted to Providence. Francis Hye, one of two naturalized Catholics in city in 1832, purchased a site for a church in the western part of Providence on High Street. Work on a church began in 1836. A scarcity of funds slowed the work and it was not until December 10, 1837 that the first mass was celebrated in the church which was dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul. Divisions within the Irish community in Providence and between one segment of the population and the Ulster-born priest who finished building SS. Peter and Paul’s, Fr. John Corry, led to the building of a second, smaller church in Providence on Smith Hill, which was dedicated on Sunday, July 3, 1842 in honor of St. Patrick.
The cardinals of the Propaganda were well aware of the poverty of the American Church when they recommended the creation of the Diocese of Hartford in 1843. Shortly after Bishop Tyler was ordained bishop and the diocese officially erected in March 1844, the Propaganda, in a letter to the president of the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith, specially recommended the new Diocese of Hartford along with three other new American dioceses for financial aid from the society. Bishop Tyler used the funds the society provided to enlarge SS. Peter and Paul, his cathedral church. Even though the impact of the Irish potato famine, which would bring great misery to the Irish people between 1845 and 1850 and led to the exodus of 2.5 million Irish of all classes, was just beginning to be felt in the United States, the Cathedral was far too small to accommodate all who wished to attend one of the two Sunday masses offered there. With the help of the French society, Bishop Tyler was able to expand the church and to rededicate it on April 11, 1847.
Second among the pressing concerns Bishop Tyler shared with his priests was the fact that many of the children of Catholic families in his diocese were ignorant of the truths of their faith. Bishop Tyler began a search for religious to come to the diocese to take up the work of education but did not wait until he secured the help of a religious order before opening a school for the children of the cathedral parish. In October 1848, the bishop reached an agreement with an Irish immigrant, Hugh Carlin, and his wife to “keep the school” which would be held in the basement of the Cathedral. Mrs. Carlin taught the girls and devoted one evening to teaching catechism to adult, while Mr. Carlin taught the boys, played the organ and “devoted his entire time to the bishop’s service.” As in other private schools, Bishop Tyler hoped the money to pay the Carlins would come from the parents of the children. When the monies the parents could pay were insufficient, the bishop, with some reservations, used monies from the general church funds to make up the difference.
In December 1848, Fr. William Wiley, the pastor of St. Patrick’s in Providence, opened a day school for the boys of his parish in a schoolhouse built at the rear of the church where since 1843 the parish had been conducting a school for girls only. Fr. Wiley placed the boys school in the charge of John Coyle, another Irish schoolmaster. Lay people also opened a private Catholic school in Newport in January 1846. As was the case with the school in the cathedral parish, the parents of the children were expected to pay the tuition of their children. For those who could not, the parishes raised funds in variety of ways or, as in the Cathedral, used monies from parish’s general fund.
Much of Bishop Tyler’s time and energy was taken up by his duties at the Cathedral of which he was pastor. His parishioners frequently encountered him on the streets of Providence carrying an umbrella as protection from rain and snow as he went about visiting the sick and the poor. Every Monday, the poor of the city knew that they could go to the cathedral rectory where the bishop himself distributed food and occasionally a little money to those in need. He considered this duty as the most important part of his mission and inseparable from the responsibility of bishop. The bishop solemnized his parishioners’ marriages, baptized their children and anointed their sick. As a strict temperance man, Bishop Tyler urged his parishioners to swear off liquor and railed against the sellers of both whiskey and beer even though some of them were among the most well to do in the parish.
At the time of his appointment as bishop, William Tyler already showed the signs of “latent consumption.” His doctor urged him to secure better quarters for himself than the damp house in which he first took up his residence. The bishop heeded his doctor’s advice in March 1846, but he made few other concessions to his health. In May 1849, while attending the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore, his failing health promoted Bishop Tyler to offer his resignation. On his way back to Providence from the Council, he caught a cold which forced him to take to his bed. Rheumatic fever soon set in. Bishop Tyler died on June 18, 1849, aged forty-five, and was buried in the crypt of the Cathedral. When the cathedral church was later rebuilt, his remains were transferred to the crypt of the new church where he rests still.
Bishop Bernard O’Reilly
The second Bishop of Hartford, Bernard O’Reilly, was Irish-born and the Vicar General of the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, when his named was proposed by the American bishops at the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore as Bishop Tyler’s coadjutor since the council would not accept Tyler’s resignation. Bishop Tyler died before Rome could act on the council’s recommendation and the Diocese of Hartford was without a bishop a whole year before Fr. O’Reilly was consecrated in October 1850.
There were about twenty thousand Catholics in Hartford diocese and thirteen priests when Bishop Tyler died. By November 1850, when Bishop O’Reilly took up his residence in Providence, the number of Catholics had risen to around forty-five thousand due to the influx of refugees from the Irish potato famine. Although the number of Catholics rose rapidly, the number of priests available to serve them had remained the same, making even more acute the pressing need for priests and religious that had been present in Bishop Tyler’s day.
Bishop O’Reilly was a vigorous man, blessed with good health and a forceful personality. In order to secure the help of additional priests to serve the needs of his diocese, he, like Bishop Tyler before him, turned for priests to the Seminary of All Hallows, at Drumcondra, near Dublin, which the Vicentian Fathers had opened to train Irish candidates for the American missions. Like Bishop Tyler, he also successfully asked that the college which the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith maintained at Rome to train missionary priests accept students for his diocese.
As additional priests became available, Bishop O’Reilly was able to respond positively to the numerous requests he received for new churches. The growing Irish communities in Providence’s Fox Point and Olneyville sections were given priests in 1851 and 1853 respectively. Churches or mission chapels were established in Warren (1851); Phenix, a village in Warwick, and East Greenwich (1853); Wakefield, in South Kingston (1854); Bristol (1855); Greenville in Smithfield (1856); and Harrisville in Burrillville (1857).
While Bishop Tyler had sought to secure Sisters of Charity for the cathedral school he had established, Bishop O’Reilly sought to secure a community of Irish Mercy Sisters soon after he came to Providence. In early 1851, he wrote to Bishop Michael O’Connor in Pittsburg where the Sisters of Mercy had established their first American house asking O’Connor’s assistance is securing sisters for Providence. Mother Frances Warde, the head of the Pittsburgh community, accompanied four of her sisters to Providence where they arrived on March 11, 1851. The sisters took over the work of teaching the younger children and the girls in the cathedral school and opened an academy for the older girls in their convent at the corner of Broad and Claverick streets. In the fall of 1851, the sisters also took over similar duties in St. Patrick’s School in Providence.
In addition to their teaching, the sisters also began caring for orphaned girls in small frame house adjoining their convent. In 1855, the School Society of SS. Peter and Paul, to whom Bishop O’Reilly had entrusted the task of building a private school for the parish, completed a three-story brick building on Lime Street in which the sisters would hold their classes.
The presence of the sisters was a great joy and comfort to the Catholics of Providence but a cause of antipathy and fear to many Protestants. Suspicions about the integrity and loyalty of the Irish and other immigrants in Providence had manifested itself in the 1840s when the state rewrote its constitution and included in it restrictions on the voting rights of naturalized citizens. The rapid rise in the number of immigrants in 1840s and 50s added to fears of native Americans and aroused the prejudices of many. Nativists’ prejudices came to focus on the Sisters of Mercy and the Catholic schools. On March 23, 1855, in response to a call for all true Americans to assemble for a political demonstration in the vicinity of the Mercy Sisters’ convent, a crowd of about two thousand men and boys gathered in front of the convent. Inside the convent grounds, several hundred Catholic workmen, armed with guns and clubs, had also gathered to see that the sisters and the children they cared for would be undisturbed. Bishop O’Reilly and Mayor Edward P. Knowles confronted the crowd which, after two hours, finally dispersed when asked to by the mayor.
At the same time Bishop O’Reilly sought a religious community of women to teach in the cathedral school, he also wrote to the Prefect of the Propaganda in Rome asking his assistance in securing a community of Irish brothers to take charge of the older boys. The prefect wrote to several Irish bishops and to the head of the Irish Christian Brothers in support of the bishop’s request. In the fall of 1855, Bishop O’Reilly traveled to Ireland to make his appeal in person. On January 22, 1856, he wrote a Irish priest in Rome that he had good prospects of obtaining the services of the Brothers of St. Patrick. The next day, even though the winter was a dangerous time to be crossing the Atlantic and it would have been prudent to wait a few weeks, he sailed for America on the “Pacific” out of Liverpool. The “Pacific” was lost at sea with all on board.
Bishop Francis P. McFarland
Since Bishop O’Reilly death at sea could not be confirmed, the cardinals of the Propaganda believed it prudent to allow a reasonable amount of time to pass before naming a successor. While the diocese waited, Bishop O’Reilly’s brother, Fr. William O’Reilly, his Vicar General for the Rhode Island part of the diocese, was appointed administrator of the whole diocese.
Although an administrator was not to make any major decisions during his tenure, the growth of the population of Providence was such that in 1857, Fr. O’Reilly purchased the meetinghouse of the South Baptist Congregation which lay a quarter mile south of the original Providence-Cranston line. The area was then sparsely settled but land was cheap in the vicinity and many Irish families were beginning to settle in the area. The church was named St. Bernard’s, in honor of the late bishop, and was initially served by priests from the Cathedral. Later, when a new church was built, the current pastor named the new church and the parish St. Michael’s.
Also in 1857, Fr. O’Reilly established another parish in the North End of Providence near the Corliss Works which would be called Immaculate Conception when the church that was being built there was dedicated. The following year, Fr. John Quinn, the pastor of St. Mary’s, Providence, built a mission church near the Sprague Print Works to serve his parishioners who lived in Cranston. In July 1861, the new Bishop of Hartford would dedicate a church in honor of St. Patrick at Valley Falls in Cumberland.
Rome’s choice for the third Bishop of Hartford was Francis Patrick McFarland, an American, born of Irish parents in Pennsylvania. Fr. McFarland was pastor of St. John’s Church in Utica, New York, when he was appointed bishop. He was ordained to the episcopacy on March 14, 1858 in the Cathedral in Providence. Tall and erect, Bishop McFarland was a talented preacher and a more patient and kindly man than was his predecessor, traits that enabled him to win the respect of Catholics and many of his non-Catholic neighbors alike.
As Bishop of Hartford, Francis McFarland visited the now many cities and towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island where there were Catholic churches at least once a year. His church-labors were interrupted by outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. Although a vocal minority in the country during the nativist agitation of the 1840s and 50s had expressed fear at the prospect of armed Irishmen performing military drill, the president and the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island called on all able bodied men to enlist in the regular army or state militia in order to preserve the Union.
Among those who volunteered for service were several of the priests of the diocese who recognized the need of the soldiers to have the comfort and support of their religion. In Rhode Island, Fr. Thomas Quinn served as associate chaplain of the First Rhode Island and later, for a time, as chaplain of the Third Rhode Island in which a large number of Irish Catholics had enlisted. Two Irish names appear among the sixteen Rhode Islanders who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the war. There are also a sprinkling of Irish names on the lists of those wanted for having failed to report for the draft instituted in March 1863.
Apart from the war itself, Dr. Ellen Ryan Jolly, when president of the Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians from 1912 to 1916, was instrumental in the passage of a resolution asking Congress to set aside a site in Washington on which the Auxiliary could erect a monument to the hundreds of religious sisters who nursed the sick and wounded during the war. She spent a year collecting the necessary evidence required by Congress to justify the monument. With the help of Rhode Island Congressman Ambrose Kennedy, she was able to persuade Congress to grant the Auxiliary’s request and, in September 1924, the Auxiliary unveiled its monument. The unveiling was followed by the publication of Dr. Jolly’s, Nuns of the Battlefield, which contained the results of her research.
In Rhode Island, the economic disruptions caused for the first years of the Civil War brought hardship to many Rhode Islanders. However, the demands of the Union armies for goods of all kinds helped bring about a return of prosperity which lasted through the early 1870′s. The expansion of mills and factories to meet the war demands and the building of new ones created a renewed demand for labor which was filled in part by new immigrants from Ireland, the German lands and also from the French-speaking Canadian Providence of Quebec.
The influx of new workers and their families into Rhode Island led to the enlargement of older churches and the building of new ones. St. John’s Parish on Atwells Avenue in Providence was created in 1870 to relieve the overcrowding of the cathedral church and the Assumption Parish in the West Elmwood section was created to meet the needs of the Catholics in that vicinity. In 1867, Fr. Edward Cooney, the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish founded a mission in the Wanskuck area, then in North Providence, which in 1874, when the area was incorporated into Providence, came to called St. Edward’s. In 1872 mass was said for the first time in St. Joseph’s, in the Warwick village of Natick and, in 1872, a pastor was appointed for the mission church of St. Joseph’s at Ashton in Cumberland. In the fall of 1871, a church was begun in the Burrillville village of Slatersville which would be dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. The increase in the number of churches and missions was possible at this time because between 1867 and 1871 Bishop McFarland ordained thirty-four men to the priesthood. In 1869, while in Rome for the First Vatican Council, Bishop McFarland, in view of his declining health, brought up the question of a division of his rapidly growing diocese in a meeting with his fellow American bishops. The question was not resolved until the bishops of the Province of New York met in April 1871. At the urging of his fellow bishops, Bishop McFarland agreed to retain his office and remove his residence to Hartford on the condition that a new diocese be created with its see with its seat in Providence, a proposal that Rome would shortly approve.
Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken and the Growth of the Diocese
The bull of Pope Pius IX erecting the new Diocese of Providence was promulgated on January 31, 1872. The priest recommended by the bishops of the Province of New York and presented as the first choice of the cardinals of the Propaganda was Thomas Francis Hendricken. At the time of his appointment, Fr. Hendricken was pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Waterbury, Connecticut. Thomas F. Hendricken was born in the town of Kilkenny in County Kilkenny, Ireland, on May 5. 1827. Although his father died when he was a boy, his uncle took an interest in his education. After studying at St. Kiernan’s College in his native Kilkenny, Hendricken went to the seminary at Maynooth where he thought of joining the Jesuits and serving in China or Japan. It was at Maynooth that Hendricken met Bishop Bernard O’Reilly who was visiting the seminary in hopes of recruiting men for the Diocese of Hartford. O’Reilly persuaded the young man to come to the American missions and, when he agreed, ordained him a priest for Hartford on April 25, 1853.
On his voyage to America, Fr. Hendricken provoked the anger of captain of the packet ship on which he had sailed when he defied the captain’s order not to attend to a dying Irish woman who had asked for a priest. The captain, who nursed a hatred for Catholics, had the young priest beaten and was threatening to throw his overboard when he was rescued by a group of German immigrants who were also on the ship. The Germans were called to the rescue by a young Protestant clergymen who had become friendly with the priest and who risked his own life in saving him.
When Fr. Hendricken was ordained the first Bishop of Providence on April 28, 1872 in SS. Peter and Paul in Providence, he was already familiar with the city from the years in which he had served as an assistant at the Cathedral under Bishop O’Reilly. When the Diocese of Providence was erected in 1872, it encompassed all of Rhode Island and what is today the Diocese of Fall River. The approximately 125,000 Catholics in the new diocese was served by some 53 priests. The first published report of the new diocese listed 43 churches with 5 under construction, 5 female academies and 1 for boys, 9 parish schools with 4,225 students and 1 orphan asylum with 200 children.
The first call on Bishop Hendricken’s considerable executive and organizing ability came from the parishes in the Massachusetts section of the diocese where there were approximately 30,000 Catholics served by 15 priests and 15 churches. Like the Bishops of Hartford before him, Bishop Hendricken chose two priests to serve as vicar general, one in each geographical part of the diocese. For the Massachusetts part, he chose Fr. Lawrence S. McMahon, the able pastor of St. Lawrence’s Church, New Bedford, whose advice would be important in the decisions the bishop would make regarding the creation of new parishes there. Bishop Williams of Boston had already created three new parishes in this section, St. Lawrence among them, before he offered to give charge of it over to the new diocese. However, the continued increase of the Catholic population in the area, particularly in Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton, prompted Bishop Hendricken to create thirteen English-speaking parishes and two French-speaking parishes in the eastern part of his diocese. Several of English-speaking pastors, both of the new and older parishes, ministered to mixed congregations of French-Canadians and Irish.
While the needs of the Massachusetts part of the diocese initially claimed the major part of Bishop Hendricken’s attention, he did not neglect the rest of the diocese. In November 1872, he split St. Patrick’s, Valley Falls, and made St. Joseph’s, Ashton, a separate parish with responsibility for the neighboring villages. In June 1873, he separated Slatersville from Harrisville and the gave the new church there its own pastor. Also in 1873, he removed Immaculate Conception’s mission at Wanskuck from the care of that Providence parish and made it the responsibility of the pastor of Greenville, many of whose parishioners had left that village after a mill fire earlier in the year. In 1874, when the population of Wanskuck began to grow due to the expansion of the mill there, Bishop Hendricken made the mission, now named St. Edward’s, an independent parish. In August 1873, he divided St. Mary’s Parish in Pawtucket and created Sacred Heart Parish in the Pleasant View section. In January 1874, he split St. Mary’s Parish again when he created St. Joseph’s which was across the Blackstone River from St. Mary’s. In March 1874, he detached St. Mary’s, Bristol, from its mother parish in Warren and gave it a resident pastor.
By the end of 1873, the pace of immigration into the diocese had not only slowed but had begun to reverse itself. The prosperous economic conditions that had prevailed during the latter years of the Civil War and into the post war period ended with the financial panic which overtook the country in September 1873. Gradually the country slid into a sustained period of depression that gripped the nation for nearly six years. One result of the panic was that the pace of parish building slowed as many of the working people of Rhode Island struggled to deal with the loss of jobs or cuts in their wages. When in the 1870s violence broke out in many cities and towns between striking railroad workers and local authorities, Bishop Hendricken urged the people of his diocese to reject violence and wait until better economic times returned before seeking to strike in order to win better wages or working conditions.
Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken and the French Canadians
During the period of the Civil War and of the post war expansion of the nation’s transportation system and industries, the number of immigrants from the French-speaking Canadian Province of Quebec, who came to Rhode and southeastern Massachusetts, greatly increased. Before the Civil War expanded the demand for woolen goods and other products, several hundred French Canadians had settled in various Rhode Island mill towns and villages. Between 1860 and 1910 over 35,000 French Canadians would migrate to Rhode Island.
By 1861 the number of French Canadians in the Diocese of Hartford was such that Bishop McFarland began writing to various Canadian bishops asking them to release priests to serve the Canadians who had settled in his diocese. Since the Canadian bishops were themselves short of priests, Bishop McFarland, as an alternative, sought to recruit Belgian and Dutch priests from Europe, who could speak French, to fill the need for clergy able to minister to the Canadians. At the same time, Bishop McFarland hoped that the priests he sent to study theology in Montreal might also prove useful in ministering to the Canadians.
The sending of English-speaking priests to study in various national seminaries so as to learn the language and become familiar with the religious traditions of the various immigrants proved in time to be a successful way of meeting the religious needs of several immigrants groups who would make their homes in Diocese of Hartford. However, the plan proved much less successful in meeting the needs of the French-Canadian immigrants who insisted on having a priest of their own kind and on having a voice in the administration of their parishes.
Since the Church in the United States had developed in such a way that the pastor of a parish had sole authority in temporal as well as spiritual matters, a clash between Canadian and American parochial customs was perhaps inevitable. It was partly a misunderstanding of American Church administrative practice on the part of the French Canadians in Woonsocket, who were accustomed in Canada of having a lay voice at least in temporal affairs, and partly a consequence of Bishop McFarland’s inability to secure the services of a Canadian priest to head the parish, that brought an end to bishop’s efforts to create a French-Canadian parish in Woonsocket in 1866.
After the Diocese of Providence was created and Bishop Hendricken was ordained, another Irish pastor, who was concerned about the number of French Canadians in his parish who did not attend mass, proved to be the catalyst in the creation of the first parish for the French Canadians in the new diocese. In 1872, Fr. Patrick Delaney, the pastor of St. Mary’s, Pawtucket, asked a young French-Canadian priest, Fr. Charles Dauray, who was staying with relatives in Central Falls while attempting to recover his health, to offer a special mass on Sunday for the French Canadians with a sermon in French. Fr. Delaney’s request proved to be the catalyst for the founding of Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur parish in Central Falls in September 1873 when Fr. Dauray was given charge of the French Canadians in Pawtucket and Central Falls.
In January 1873, Bishop Hendricken acceded to the request of French Canadians in Arctic, a mill village in Warwick, for a priest and a parish of their own by sending Fr. Henry Spruyt, a Belgian priest of Flemish descent, to organize a parish which would in time be dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A little later in 1873, Bishop Hendricken also acceded to the renewed request of the Canadians in Woonsocket for a parish of their own. In March 1873, he asked the assistant at St. Charles, Woonsocket, Fr. Antoine Bernard, to take charge of the building of a church. When the task proved too great for Fr. Bernard, Bishop Hendricken assigned another French-speaking priest from Belgium, Fr. James Berkins, to the task. A large faction among the Canadians refused to accept Fr. Berkins as their pastor because he was not a Canadian and their leaders organized a pew rent strike in an attempt to force Bishop Hendricken to replace him. Bishop Hendricken finally agreed to do so on the condition that the Canadians return to their good behavior. As a replacement for Fr. Berkins, the bishop transferred Fr. Dauray from Central Falls to the French parish in Woonsocket, Precious Blood, in November 1875. In 1874, Bishop Hendricken created St. Charles Parish for the French Canadians in Providence.
Several of the other Rhode Island parishes that Bishop Hendricken created, namely St. Joseph’s, Natick; St. John’s, Slatersville; St. Michael’s, Georgiaville; and St. James, Manville, served mixed English and French-speaking congregations. St. James, Manville, would in a short time become essentially a French-Canadian parish.
While Bishop Hendricken and the French Canadians in Woonsocket were able to resolve the tensions between them, the bishop enjoyed less success with the Canadians of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish in Fall River which Bishop Hendricken established in 1874 under Fr. Pierre J. B. Bedard, an ardent French-Canadian nationalist. After Fr. Bedard died in 1884 and a French-Canadian priest whom the bishop sent to replace him resigned because he found the work too difficult, the ultra-nationalists among the parishioners in Notre Dame refused to accept the two French-speaking pastors of Irish ancestry and one of mixed Irish and French Canadian ancestry whom the bishop sent to the parish. Bishop Hendricken would have preferred to send them a French Canadian pastor rather than the Irish priests but he did not have one who had the ability to deal with the complicated financial situation Fr. Bedard had left behind and who could be trusted not to continue the dubious administrative practices Fr. Bedard had thought necessary to protect the parish’s French-Canadian heritage. The parishioners appealed to Rome for a priest of their own kind. In reply to Rome’s inquiries, Bishop Hendricken explained his position and pointed out that heart of the question had become that of the authority of the bishop and his right to choose his pastors. The Roman authorities supported the bishop. The controversy lasted almost two years and was resolved when a French-Canadian bishop made one of his priests, who was up to the task of being pastor of Notre Dame, available to Bishop Hendricken.
Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken and the Immigrant Church
During Bishop Hendricken’s years the Catholic population of the diocese, which included southeastern Massachusetts as well as Rhode Island, not only increased in number from approximately 125,000 to approximately 195,000, but also increased in wealth and prestige. While the majority of Catholics remained economically part of the laboring class, a significant number became well-to-do merchants and professionals, while a few were counted among the wealthy in the state.
One of the more successful Irish immigrants was John B. Hennessy, who was thought to be one of the wealthiest Catholics in the state when he died in February 1888. As a young man of twenty-one he had come to Providence in the late 1820s or early 30s and opened a little grocery store on North Main Street which, like the larger one he opened later on Canal Street, became a center for information concerning the arrival and departure of vessels, letters and immigrants. In addition to the grocery and immigration business, Mr. Hennessy also lent money to his fellow Irish, who could not get a loan from other sources, for the purchase of homes. He also lent money to the clergy, who, like the laity, were not able to get loans from the commercial banks to cover the cost of construction of churches because the Catholic community lacked standing in the eyes of the bankers.
The majority of the Irish immigrants, as well as the French- Canadian, German and Portuguese immigrants in the state, rented rather than owned their homes. Without being home owners, even the naturalized citizens among the immigrants, for the most part, failed to meet the monetary qualifications for voting under the 1842 Rhode Island constitution, which had been deliberately written to exclude them as voters. The immigrants felt the injustice of their disenfranchisement and many supported the various attempts made to amend the constitution which were not successful until the passage of the Bourn Amendment in 1888.
Among those who emerged as a leader in the equal rights and suffrage reform movement was Charles E. Gorman, whose father was Irish and his mother was a descendent from early Massachusetts Bay settlers. Gorman was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar in 1865 and, in 1870, was the first Catholic to serve in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Before and after his service in the Assembly he served in various elective offices in Providence. Bishop Hendricken elicited his help in 1884 when he began his effort to win access for the Catholic clergy to prisoners held in state custody and for the inmates’ right to practice their religion while in jail.
Another Irish immigrant who prospered in Providence was Joseph Banigan. Banigan came to the United States with his parents in the 1840s and found work in the rubber business in Woonsocket. In time he entered into a partnership with his employers and, by virtue of his business acumen applied to the rubber business and investments, he became a wealthy man.
As a nineteenth century businessman, Mr. Banigan sought to create efficient manufacturing plants. To keep the price of labor and profits high, he, like other industrialists of his day, would stoutly resist the call of the Knights of Labor for higher wages when they struck his Woonsocket Rubber Works. At the same time, he shared the sense of conviction of other wealthy men that they had an obligation to help the poor. Mr. Banigan was generous to the parishes in which he lived and, with other prominent and successful Catholics, supported the maintenance and further enlargement of the Orphan Asylum which Bishop McFarland had built on Prairie Avenue in 1862. In 1881, when Bishop Hendricken welcomed the Little Sisters of the Poor to the diocese, Banigan and his wife Maria took an interest in their work among the elderly poor. In 1882, Mr. Banigan built with his own funds a three-story brick building on Main Street in Pawtucket that, in the following year, he turned over to the Little Sisters of the Poor as a Home for the Aged. While not the only generous benefactor of the Church in Rhode Island, Mr. Banigan was, in the nineteenth century, the most prominent. In 1885, at the request of Bishop Hendricken, the Holy See conferred on him the honor of a Knight of St. Gregory, the first Rhode Island layman so honored.
Besides the works of charity, Rhode Island Catholics also generously supported the work of Catholic education both on parochial and high school levels. With no immediate hope of fulfilling Bishop O’Reilly’s plan for bringing brothers to teach the older boys in the cathedral school, Bishop McFarland had closed the boys’ academy in 1864 in order to give more room to the girls. In 1866, Bishop McFarland secured a promise of help from the American Provincial of the Brothers of the Christian Schools as soon as men were available. In anticipation of the brothers’ arrival, Bishop McFarland built a new school for boys on Fountain Street, which opened in September 1870 with a lay faculty headed by Fr. Henry Kinnerney. Three Christian Brothers arrived in 1871 to take charge of the school that in time would become known as La Salle Academy.
In 1872, Bishop Hendricken secured a Providence estate for the Religious of the Sacred Heart, who had been looking for a suitable place in New England to found a school. In November 1872, four sisters arrived in Providence to open the Academy of the Sacred Heart which was also known as Elmhurst. The sisters also agreed to staffed St. Mary’s School in Providence but, when the work of their own convent grew, the Religious of the Sacred Heart withdrew from St. Mary’s in 1877. To replace them pastor of St. Mary’s invited the Ursulines to take up the work of a boarding school and day academy in the parish as well as the staffing the parish school. In 1874, the Sisters of Mercy moved their boarding students from St. Xavier’s in Providence, to “Bay View,” a large residence in East Providence in order to better accommodate their day students.
In order to foster the education of those attending Sunday School, Bishop Hendricken in 1875 began publishing the Weekly Visitor, which continues today with a different focus as the Providence Visitor.
Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken and the Cathedral
One sign that times had changed in Providence since a Catholic bishop first took up his residence in the city was the manner in which Bishop Hendricken was greeted when he drove his small buggy through the streets of the city. In the 1850s, Bishop O’Reilly was greeted often enough by cries of “Paddy the priest” from children whose parents were uneasy with the increasing numbers of Irish and Catholics in the city. In the 1870s, when Bishop Hendricken went out, his right hand was almost constantly raised in blessing to those who greeted him.
The increasing number of Catholics in Providence caused crowding in the Cathedral at all the masses. As early as 1863, Bishop McFarland had announced his hope of replacing the Cathedral with a new and larger church and had begun a collection to raise money to purchase the necessary land. Space was not the only consideration that prompted the bishop to plan for a new church. When Bishop Tyler was building his addition to the original cathedral church, he knew that the work of construction was being badly done, but he lacked the money to do the job properly. Bishop McFarland’s announcement of his plans was poorly received by the parishioners of the Cathedral and he was not able to accomplish a great deal. Bishop McFarland did ease the crowding of the Cathedral somewhat when, in 1870, he divided the cathedral parish and created St. John’s parish on Federal Hill.
Bishop Hendricken announced his intention of undertaking the work of building a suitable cathedral church within a few months of his coming to Providence. There was again grumbling because some claimed that a new Cathedral would cost a million dollars. Hendricken, who was an experienced administrator, assured those who had misgivings that the project was feasible given the resources available. Before any new building could be done, the cathedral parish’s existing debt had to paid and more land purchased. As architect of the new church, Bishop Hendricken engaged Patrick C. Keely of Brooklyn, an Irish immigrant who had designed the new church which Hendricken has built while pastor of Immaculate Conception in Waterbury. Keely’s work was represented in the diocese by two other churches he had designed, St. Joseph’s, Providence, and St. Mary’s, Newport. The building project was to include a new cathedral rectory as the land on which the old one sat was needed for the new church.
The first major step in the project was the building of a temporary or pro-Cathedral on Broad Street in the garden of the Sisters of Mercy that could accommodate two thousand people when completed in 1876. As the state was still feeling the impact of the financial panic of 1873, two more years would pass before the old Cathedral was closed and all the Sunday masses were held in the pro-Cathedral. The need to replace the poorly built old church was dramatically underlined in April 1878, when, during the celebration of the liturgy of Holy Thursday, a woman took fright at some noise she heard overhead in east wing and impulsively cried out. Those around her became alarmed and began rushing into the aisles for the doors. The panic spread to the entire congregation who were all quickly on their feet. Bishop Hendricken went to the center of the sanctuary and in his loudest voice called upon all to knell down at once where they were as there was no occasion for alarm. One of his priests took up the call in a yet louder voice. The call for calm, repeated by several men in the congregation, stopped the rush into the aisles.
After the last mass in the old church on May 5, 1878, the building was torn down to make room for the new one. Bishop Hendricken would devote a great deal of his energy during the next seven years to raising the funds for the construction of the church. From the very beginning he told the people of the cathedral parish and of the diocese that he would not put the church into debt to build the Cathedral but would pay for it as construction went along. Besides a collection at Easter for the Cathedral, Bishop Hendricken took up a special collection for the project in each parish he visited for the Confirmation of the children. While the people and clergy of the diocese generally supported the bishop’s efforts, at least one pastor, who was angry at the bishop for having divided his parish against his wishes, refused to do anything to help.
Bishop Hendricken first hoped to see the new Cathedral finished in June 1885, but he had to put off the dedication for a year when the collection of funds fell short. In March 1886, he asked the people of the diocese for one final effort in behalf of the church. When a few weeks later, the bishop began his final tour of the parishes, his health was already failing. During the previous four years his asthmatic condition made it impossible for him to get a whole night’s sleep. His fellow bishops, when they submitted his name to Rome in 1871, knew of his physical ailment but, in making their decision to nominate him, they believed that his abilities outweighed the limitations of his health. On May 16, 1886, Bishop Hendricken spent a long and exhausting day in the Pawtuxet Valley during which he visited five parishes. He caught a cold that day and a week later he was forced to take to his bed. He died on June 11, 1886 at the age of fifty-nine after fourteen years service as bishop. His funeral on June 16 was the first mass celebrated in the new Cathedral.
Bishop Matthew Harkins and the Growth of the Diocese
On April 14, 1887, Matthew Harkins, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and a man known and respected as a pastor, an expert theologian and canonist, and a prudent and successful administrator, was ordained the second Bishop of Providence. Bishop Harkins in the course of his years would be called by a fellow bishop, William Stang of Fall River, “the ideal of a Catholic bishop.” Born in Boston on November 17, 1845 of Irish immigrant parents, Harkins attended the public schools of Boston and later graduated from Holy Cross College, Worcester. After studies with the Benedictines in the English College at Douai, France, and with the Sulpicians at St. Sulpice in Paris and at Issy, he was ordained a priest on May 22, 1869. He served as parish priest in Salem and Arlington, and, in 1884 at age 39, he was appointed pastor of St. James in Boston, then the largest parish in New England.
During Bishop Harkins’ years, the Diocese of Providence grew to be among the largest in the country and to have one of the highest percentage of Catholics. The growth of the diocese was such that, in 1904, Bishop Harkins asked Rome to divide the diocese by setting off the Massachusetts part as the new Diocese of Fall River. The Diocese of Providence was left with a population of 190,000, which increased to 275,180 out of a state population of 604,397, by 1920. There were thirty-nine parishes in Rhode Island when Bishop Harkins arrived in 1887. When he died in 1921, there were ninety-five in addition to twenty-one missions which would be parishes in the near future.
Twenty-four of the five-six parishes Bishop Harkins created with intended for English-speaking Catholics. When Bishop Harkins came to the state in 1887, the American transportation and industrial revolution had had a profound impact on the state which was becoming increasingly urbanized and industrialized. Most of the new parishes Bishop Harkins created were established in the cities and in the growing suburbs which were in the process of being connected to the older urban core by street railways. Others, like St. Augustin’s, Newport; St. Mark’s, Jamestown; St. Philomena’s (later St. Thomas More), Narragansett; St. Benedict’s, Conimicut; and St. Andrew’s, Block Island, served the large number of summer visitors that sought recreation or relief from the summer heat along Rhode Island’s shores as well as year-round parishioners.
The majority of the new parishes created during Bishop Harkins years as administrator of the diocese were set up to serve the needs of the various ethnic groups whose numbers swelled and diversified the state’s population. In his thirty-five years as bishop, Bishop Harkins created twelve parishes for the French Canadians, seven for the Italians, six for the Polish, two for the Portuguese, and two for the Syrians, one for those of the Maronite rite and another for those of the Melkite rite. In addition, St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church, where mass was celebrated according to the Ruthenian rite, was created in Woonsocket in 1908.
In 1887, there were sixty-three priests serving the parishes and missions in Rhode Island. When Bishop Harkins resigned as administrator, there were 207 diocesan priests, all but one of whom was ordained after he became bishop. There was only one religious order in the diocese, the Jesuits who had come to St. Joseph’s, Providence in 1877, when Bishop Harkins came in 1887. Under Bishop Harkins seven religious orders came to the diocese. The Jesuits left the diocese in 1898, but the Scalabrini Fathers, the Marists, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit all accepted the bishop’s invitation to come to Rhode Island, primarily to serve the non-English speaking immigrants. The Trappists and Benedictines came to further enrich the spiritual life of the Church in the state, and the Dominicans of the American Province of St. Joseph came primarily to open a Catholic college in Providence.
Bishop Harkins took a personal interest in the selection and training of the young men who volunteered for service as priests in the diocese. He was an early and constant supporter of the Catholic University of America whose initial mission was to provide graduate training for priests after ordination. Harkins sent many of his young priests to the university for further studies and, in 1903, he was elected to the university’s Board of Trustees. It was in view of the fact that he could not personally recruit clergy with the necessary language skills and familiarity with the culture of the immigrants of the diocese to meet their pastoral needs that prompted him to turn to religious orders for help.
In his dealings with his priests, Bishop Harkins remained “professedly official.” Yet he was easy to approach and scrupulously fair. He did not hold a grudge but, when the work of a priest was not up to his standards or a priest’s action scandalized the faithful, Harkins chose not to give him an assignment, even when he was short of priests. Since he suffered from arthritis much of his life, Bishop Harkins found relief and enjoyment in taking long walks. He frequently called at rectories along his route to pay a visit on the pastor. Even on the coldest winter days, the people of the diocese encountered him on the streets taking his walk. In 1909, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of his ordination as a priest, the clergy of the diocese gave him money for an automobile. Although Bishop Harkins did eventually purchase one, he nevertheless continued his walks until illness made him an invalid late in his life.
Bishop Matthew Harkins and the Immigrant Church
Like the majority of the native-born American bishops of his day, Bishop Matthew Harkins wished to see the non-English speaking immigrants integrated into American society and the American church as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, as a good and prudent pastor, he recognized the great affection of all immigrants, but particularly the French Canadians, for their language and traditions and the importance they placed on them. There were four French-Canadian parishes in Rhode Island and one formed to serve both a French-speaking and an English-speaking congregation when Bishop Harkins came to the diocese in 1887. Although during his years the number of French Canadians in the diocese fluctuated from 26,627 in 1890, to 34,087 in 1910, to 28,887 in the 1920 census, Bishop Harkins would create twelve additional parishes to serve their religious needs.
Woonsocket had the largest of the French-Canadian colonies. In 1890, Bishop Harkins created St. Ann’s; in 1902, Holy Family and St. Louis; and in 1909, Our Lady of Victories. To the south of Woonsocket, in the town of Lincoln, he created St. Ambrose, Albion, in 1892. To the west of Woonsocket, in the town of Burrillville, he created Our Lady of Good Help, Mapleville, in 1905. In 1895, Bishop Harkins divided Notre Dame, Central Falls, by creating Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Pawtucket, and divided it again when, in 1904, he set up St. Matthew’s, Central Falls. In 1910, Harkins created a second French-Canadian parish in Pawtucket, when he set off St. Cecilia’s, primarily from territory served by Our Lady of Consolation. In Providence, Our Lady of Lourdes was created out of St. Charles in 1904 and, in the North Providence, St. Lawrence, Centredale, was established in 1907 and the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Marieville was set up in 1912. In Warwick, the village of Phenix, was set off from St. John the Baptist, Arctic, when Our Lady of Good Counsel was established in 1897. In addition to these parishes, Bishop Harkins gave the Marist Fathers charge of Immaculate Conception parish in Westerly so that the French Canadians there would have French-speaking priests. In the town of Scituate, a French-speaking priest was given charge of the mission station established in that town in 1892. Only in Bristol did the French Canadians fail to persuade Bishop Harkins that there was sufficient numbers to support a priest and a parish.
Because the French Canadians were anxious to preserve both their language and their culture, schools quickly arose near the new French-Canadian churches and French-speaking nuns from Canada and from France were brought to the diocese to staff them. In the French-Canadian schools, at least half of the day’s instruction was in French with English used only for certain subjects. Through much of the nineteenth century, native Americans challenged the wisdom and value of bilingual education, seeing it as an obstacle to the Americanization of the French Canadians. However, for French-Canadian parents, language and culture outweighed other concerns.
In addition to their own churches and schools, the French Canadians in Rhode Island wished to see that orphaned children and the elderly were also cared for in a familiar atmosphere. Fr. Charles Dauray, the pastor of Precious Blood Parish in Woonsocket, which in spite of the many parishes created out of its original territory, remained one of the largest French-Canadian parishes in the state, in 1904 opened the Hospice St. Antoine as a home for the aged. To staff the hospice, Fr. Dauray enlisted the help of the Sisters of Charity whose motherhouse was at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. When plans for French-Canadian orphanage sponsored jointly by all the French-Canadians parishes in the state fell victim to differences of opinion among the clergy, Fr. Dauray, on his own initiative, arranged the necessary funding. He invited the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to staff what was to be known as Mt. St. Francis Orphanage, which opened in Woonsocket in 1912.
The French Canadians also created their own newspapers as well as a number of important fraternal, cultural and athletic societies, many of which had some official connection with the Church. One of the largest of the Canadian societies, the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which offered its members life insurance at reasonable rates, established its national headquarters in Woonsocket.
While Bishop Harkins enjoyed good relationships with his French-Canadians priests and the congregations they served, his administration was not without controversy. Various ultra-nationalists among the French Canadians urged Rome to appointed French-Canadian priests as bishops in New England. Some even would urge the creation of a separate French-Canadian diocese in order to ensure that the sacrifices the French Canadians had made to build their many churches, schools and other institutions would not be ignored by bishops who wished to see them adopt English and American customs as quickly as possible. The ultra-nationalists carefully scrutinized the manner in which the bishops of New England treated the French Canadians and often criticized them.
Bishop Harkins was criticized several times by members of the French-Canadian community for actions that he took but the most dramatic of his confrontations with the Canadians occurred in 1914. In 1887, at the beginning of his administration, Bishop Harkins had brought Dominicans to the French-Canadian parish of St. Anne, Fall River. In 1914, he proposed giving the Marist Fathers, who were a French rather than a French-Canadian order, charge of St. Ann’s Parish in the heart of Woonsocket’s Social District. The parishioners of St. Ann’s organized a Vigilance Committee to see that the Marists would not enter St. Ann’s rectory. Since the parishioners of St. Ann’s were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the appointment of any other than priests of Canadian background as their pastor, Bishop Harkins eventually agreed to transfer a French-Canadian priest from St. Charles, Providence, and offered that parish to the Marists. The Marists accepted the offer even though St. Charles was a much smaller parish than St. Ann’s. Throughout the controversy, the parish leaders of the opposition to the Marists took great pains not to criticize Bishop Harkins and, when they achieved their ends, politely sent a letter of thanks to him.
Bishop Matthew Harkins and the Immigrant Church (Part 2)
During Bishop Harkins’s years, almost as many Italians settled in Rhode Island by 1920 as French Canadians (32,241 Italians as compared to 36,715 French Canadians). To serve their needs, Bishop Harkins and his coadjutor, Bishop William A. Hickey, created nine Italian parishes.
In addition to these parishes specifically created for the Italians, both the Marists in Immaculate Conception parish, Westerly, and the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, who took charge of St. Joseph’s, Natick, West Warwick, in 1899, assigned Italian-speaking priests as part of their staffs to care for the Italians in those towns. In 1908, an Italian priest who was serving as chaplain at the Cenacle in Newport, made an unsuccessful attempt Italian parish there.
The first Italian parish, Holy Ghost, Providence, was established in 1899, shortly after Bishop Harkins came to Providence. Throughout his administration, Bishop Harkins readily granted permission for new ethnic parishes whenever an ethnic group was able to demonstrate its ability to support a church and a pastor. Because Harkins refused to give parochial assignments to priests who lacked the proper credentials from their bishops, he frequently experienced difficulty in finding suitable priests to serve the ethnic parishes. In the case of the Italians, Bishop Harkins was able to secure the assistance of the Missionaries of St. Charles or Scalabrini Fathers, an Italian congregation founded in 1887 to work among immigrants. Besides Holy Ghost, Providence, Bishop Harkins gave the Scalabrini Fathers charge of St. Rocco’s, Johnston, 1907; Bartholomew’s, Providence, 1910; St. Our Lady of Grace, Bristol, 1913; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bristol, 1916; and Our Lady of Loreto, East Providence, 1921.
Since the Scalabrini Fathers were not able to supply a sufficient number of priests for all the parishes needed, Bishop Harkins did give some parishes to Italian diocesan priests who emigrated to the United States. After a rather disappointing experience with one Italian priest who had offered his services to the diocese and was given charge of St. Ann’s, Providence, in 1896, Bishop Harkins, in 1901, sent Fr. Antonio Bove, an diocesan priest who had come to the United States as an associate of the Scalabrini Fathers, to take charge of the parish. Fr. Bove would serve St. Ann’s for thirty years. During his tenure as pastor, Fr. Bove built a new church, opened 1914 a day nursery staffed by the Sisters of the Institute of the Maestre Pie Venerini di Roma, and in 1917 opened the first Catholic school in an Italian parish which he asked the Sisters of Mercy to staff. Besides Fr. Bove, Bishop Harkins gave diocesan priests charge of Our Lady of Grace, Johnston, in 1912; Holy Angels, Barrington, in 1916; and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Providence, in 1921.
Divisions were present among the Italians, from the very beginning of their colonies in Rhode Island, as the first loyalty of many of the Italians, after their families, was to the place of their birth and the saint honored there. Both the Scalabrini Fathers at Holy Ghost and Fr. Bove at St. Ann’s would experience serious difficulties with groups of their parishioners which hindered the work of parish building.
The large number of Polish immigrants who came to Rhode Island after the turn of the nineteenth century also demanded the bishop’s attention. Federal census takers recorded only 1,863 Polish immigrants in the state in 1900, but the Polish population increased to 8,158 by the 1920. To serve the needs of these immigrants, Bishop Harkins created seven Polish parishes: St. Adalbert’s, Providence, 1902; St. Stanislaus Kostka, Woonsocket, and Our Lady of Czenstochowa, Quidnick, 1905; St. Joseph’s, Central Falls, 1906; St. Casimir’s, Warren, 1908; and St. Hedwig’s, Providence, 1916. Bishop Harkins unsuccessfully sought to establish the Polish Resurrectionist Fathers in the diocese to serve the Poles when he gave them charge of a Fall River parish in 1902. When the priest’s superiors recalled him after only three months, the bishop had to rely upon Polish priests he recruited directly from the American College in Louvain, Belgium, or upon Polish immigrant priest. There were enough itinerant Polish priests in the United State of dubious reputation to cause the Poles in the northern and eastern sections of Providence, who were anxious to have a Polish parish on their side of the city, to complain several times to the apostolic delegate in Washington of what they regarded as Bishop Harkins’ neglect of their interests. Although Bishop Harkins did find a suitable Polish priest for a second Providence parish after a long search, he did not succeed in finding a Lithuanian priest to serve the Lithuanian colony in Providence when they asked for a priest and a parish separate from the Poles. Lithuanian nationalism combined with internal problems in St. Adalbert’s, Providence, to provid the catalyst for an attempt on the part of some of the Poles and Lithuanians to established an independent parish in Providence in 1908. The attempt was unsuccessful and in 1919, after Bishop Hickey, who had personal contacts with some of the Lithuanian clergy, came to the diocese, St. Casimir’s Parish in Providence, was set up to serve the Lithuanians.
Another immigrant group, whose numbers increased during Bishop Harkins’ years, was the Portuguese. Bishop Hendricken has created the first Portuguese parish in the state when he set up Holy Rosary parish in Providence’s Fox Point section in 1885. Bishop Harkins created St. Elizabeth’s, Bristol, for the Portuguese in 1913, and St. Francis Xavier’s, East Providence, in 1915. In addition, the Holy Ghost Fathers, to whom in 1908 Bishop Harkins gave charge of the newly established St. Anthony’s Parish, Portsmouth, with its mission at Little Compton, added a Portuguese priest to their staff to serve the needs of the Portuguese under their charge.
Because of the difficulty Bishop Harkins had in securing the services of Portuguese priests, the Portuguese in Bristol would also complain that Bishop Harkins was neglecting their interests. In this instance, as in the case of the Providence Poles, the apostolic delegate, supported Bishop Harkins and advised patience. Harkins contemporaries among the American bishops would praise him for having done as much pastorally for the immigrants as had any other bishop in the country.
Bishop Harkins and Growth of Catholic Social & Charitable Instructions
The urbanization and industrialization of the United States in the nineteenth century increased the wealth of the country but also increased the scope and size of the social problems of the millions who did not share in the prosperity of the nation. Bishop Matthew Harkins successfully enlisted the help of the wealthy and provided numerous outlets for the charity of the others in the rising middle and working classes to create what was widely regarded as the best organized diocese in the country in terms of its charitable efforts.
Since 1852 when the Sisters of Mercy opened an orphanage for girls in Providence, the Catholic and the larger Rhode Island community had responded compassionately to the plight of orphans. In 1890, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, whose members had recently helped fund an addition to the St. Aloysius Orphan Asylum, focused on yet another aspect of child care, the care of babies and infants. The society’s effort led to opening of the St. Vincent de Paul Infant Asylum in 1892, which was to be staffed by the Sisters of Divine Providence. The asylum first opened in a home on Park Street, Providence but, in 1897, the infants were moved to Regent Avenue and to a newly construction building on land which Joseph Banigan had purchased and donated to the corporation which oversaw the asylum.
Bishop Harkins was the only clerical member of the St. Vincent De Paul Infant Asylum corporation when it was set up. The bishop created St. Vincent’s to serve the needs of all in the community regardless of race or religion and, by establishing a lay dominated corporation to oversee the asylum hoped that it would be supported by the entire community. In 1915, representatives from various Catholic and non-denominational fraternal and benevolent societies began holding a summer lawn party, which in time developed into a popular carnival, and a winter concert, as fund raisers for the home. In 1922, the sponsoring groups formalized their organization by creating the St. Vincent’s Assembly to order to better coordinate their efforts.
In addition to the St. Aloysius Orphan Asylum and Mt. St. Francis Orphanage, two other orphanages were opened in Rhode Island under Bishop Harkins. In 1905, the St. Vincent de Paul Society in St. Charles Parish, Woonsocket, opened the St. Vincent de Paul Home, staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York, in their parish and, in 1915, the diocese opened Mercy Home and School, staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, in Newport.
For those parents who had to work and could not care for their young children during the day, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary opened up a day nursery in Woonsocket in 1904 and a second one in Providence in 1915, especially for parents of Italian children. The year before the Venerini Sisters opened their day nursery in St. Ann’s, Providence, and the Pallotine Sisters of Charity had opened theirs in St. Bartholomew’s Parish. In 1907, the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, better known as the White Sisters, opened the Carter Day Nursery in Providence and, in 1910, opened a second one in Newport.
In order to protect the interests of abandoned and neglected children referred to the civil courts or brought to society’s attention by their parents or relatives, the St. Vincent de Paul Society funded the salary of William J. Wallace, whom Bishop Harkins chose to fill the post of the society’s agent. Mr. Wallace persuaded Bishop Harkins to support the opening of a Working Boys Home in 1898 in the Park Street building, first occupied by the Infant Asylum, to serve the needs of orphan boys who were old enough to work. To provide healthy summer recreation for all children, Fr. James T. Ward, treasurer of the Working Boys Home, arranged for the purchase of the Tower Hill House, Narragansett, in 1907, with funds raised by public subscription.
The needs of young women for training in domestic arts were filled various of communities of religious sisters and by St. Mary’s School of Domestic Arts opened in St. Mary’s, Pawtucket, in 1900, and St. James School of Domestic Arts, opened in St. James, Arctic, West Warwick, in 1914. In order to provide safe and pleasant lodging for single women, Maria Banigan and a group of ladies, took the initiative in 1890 of opening St. Maria’s Home, Providence, which was staffed the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York. The sisters later opened St. Margaret’s Home, Providence, in 1905. Also in 1905, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd opened a House of the Good Shepherd in Providence to provide care and direction for girls and women who were put out by their families or who were referred to them by the civil courts.
To ensure that the seriously ill Catholics received the consolation of their faith as well as to ensure that those who were incurably ill had proper nursing care, Bishop Harkins founded St. Joseph’s Hospital staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, in 1892. In 1904, the sisters set up a tent on a farm in Hillsgrove owned by the diocese and transferred three of their tuberculosis patients there. In 1908, helped by a $2500 grant from the Rhode Island General Assembly, the sisters opened a new hospital building on the farm, the first hospital devoted to the care of tuberculosis patients in the state.
Raising the funds to build and then to operate these and other charitable institutions that formed a complete support network for Catholics and were opened as well to all in the state proved to be a difficult and demanding tasks. Fees paid by those who benefitted from their services provided some of the funds. The General Assembly appropriated some funds for the orphanages and the hospital. The orphanages and hospital also held yearly Donation Days when the public were invited to come to tour various institutions and bring donations of food, clothing and toys. Tag Days, during which young ladies sold tags to the public, were used to raise funds for the Carter Day Nursery and the House of the Good Shepherd. Good management on the part of the sisters who ran the institutions stretched the funds as far as possible.
Bishop Matthew Harkins and Catholic Education
While Bishop Harkins was himself a graduate of the public schools of Boston, he believed that children who went to Catholic schools were more fortunate than he. As bishop, he consistently expressed his full support of the decrees of the Councils of Baltimore which called for a Catholic School in every parish. Of the forty-one parishes in Rhode Island when Bishop Harkins became bishop, only twelve had parish schools. The schools were found in the larger parishes in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls and in the industrial village of Valley Falls.
In addition to the twelve parish schools, there were four private schools for children of grammar school age. The Religious of the Sacred Heart at Elmhurst, Providence, accepted young children in their academy as did the Sisters of Mercy in their day school at St. Xavier’s, Providence, and their boarding school at Bay View, East Providence. The Sisters of Mercy also operated a school as part of the St. Aloysius Orphan Asylum on Prairie Avenue in Providence and in the new orphanage, Mercy Home and School, they opened in Newport 1915. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary also conducted a school at Mt. St. Francis Orphanage, Woonsocket, after it opened in 1912.
While the construction of a church was a pastor’s first priority, Bishop Harkins pressed his priests to also build parish schools. The French-Canadian pastors and parishioners did not need to be encouraged as they made the creation of a school a high priority. Of the thirty new schools opened between 1887 and 1921, fifteen of them were in French-Canadian parishes and one, St. Joseph’s, Natick, served a mixed French and English-speaking congregation. By 1920, the only French-Canadian parish where there was not a school was the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in North Providence whose pastor has been unable to secure teaching nuns.
Of the remaining, fourteen schools, one was opened in 1917 for the Italian children in St. Ann’s, Providence, another for the Polish children in St. Joseph’s, Central Falls, and a third in 1920 for Syrian children in St. Basil’s, Central Falls. The remaining eleven were opened in English-speaking parishes.
In addition to the grammar schools, there were also nine high schools, academies or select schools when Bishop Harkins came to Providence. During Bishop Harkins’ years, the Sisters of Mercy in St. Charles Parish, Woonsocket, in 1887 would close St. Bernard’s Academy, whose students were mostly French-Canadian girls, after the Religious of Jesus and Mary opened a school in Precious Blood Parish. They would also close St. Patrick’s Academy, Pawtucket, which they conducted in St. Mary’s Parish, and St. Joseph’s High School, Providence, in 1891 in order to consolidate their efforts for high school girls at St. Xavier’s, Providence. In 1905, the Ursuline Sisters at St. Mary’s, Providence, closed their academy after thirteen years, when they withdrew from the parish.
In 1898, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart came to Precious Blood Parish, Woonsocket, to take charge of the older boys and, in 1909, they opened a second College of the Sacred Heart in Notre Dame Parish, Central Falls. In 1892, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Sacred Heart, Pawtucket, began a small parish high school. In St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Pawtucket, the Sisters of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary founded St. Jean Baptiste Academy in 1909. The Religious of Jesus and Mary opened the Academie de Jesu-Marie in Woonsocket in 1909 and the Sisters of Notre Dame opened the Academy of the Visitation in St. Mary’s, Providence, in 1912. The founding of these new high schools reflected both growing prosperity of the Catholic community and the need created by the growing sophistication of business for workers with more extensive educations.
The expense of building and maintaining parish schools was a burden the majority in the Catholic community willing accepted as essential to the protection of the faith of Catholic children and deepening their knowledge of it. The burden on building and maintaining private schools in Rhode Island had been increased in 1876, when the nativist-inspired Rhode Island Legislature removed the tax exemption that private schools had enjoyed to that time. Various attempts were made in subsequent years to restore the tax exemption for private schools and individual exemptions were passed for the Cathedral’s Tyler School and St. Mary’s, Pawtucket, in 1890. In 1893, Bishop Harkins made common cause with the Friends School (now known as Moses Brown) to successfully seek a general tax exemption for all private schools, which was skillfully manoeuvered through the legislature and enacted in 1894.
In mandating a Catholic school system in 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore stipulated that Catholic schools were to be equal in quality to the public schools. To oversee the schools of the diocese, Bishop Harkins created a Diocesan School Board in 1888. In reality, however, the individual teaching orders initially did the bulk of the work in ensuring the quality of the education offered in the schools.
For many years, Bishop Harkins nourished the hope of seeing a Catholic college established in the diocese. He first thought that the Christian Brothers might extend their apostolate and offer college courses, but the Brothers were hard pressed to meet their current comments. A chance meeting with a Dominican of the American Province of St. Joseph in the summer of 1910 set in motion a chain of events that led to the Dominicans joining with the diocese in the opening of Providence College in 1919. The college’s dedication was part of the diocese’s celebration of Bishop Harkins’ fiftieth anniversary of his ordination as a priest. The now elderly bishop was present for the ceremonies in front of Harkins Hall. The college’s dedication on May 25, 1919 was Bishop Harkins’ last public function. Illness limited his activity and confined him to the cathedral rectory. He died two years later on May 25, 1921 after thirty-four years as Bishop of Providence.
Bishop William A. Hickey and Catholic Education
Advancing age and declining health prompted Bishop Harkins in May 1914 to ask Rome for the assistance of an auxiliary bishop. Rome first appointed Msgr. Thomas F. Doran as the diocese’ first auxiliary. Bishop Doran was ordained in the Cathedral on April 28, 1915, but died after only eight months of service in January 1916. Rome next named Fr. Dennis Lowney as auxiliary and he was ordained bishop on October 23, 1917. Bishop Lowney was stricken with heart disease in the June following his ordination and died on August 13, 1918. Since Bishop Harkins’ own health continued to deteriorate, he next asked Rome, not for an auxiliary, but for a coadjutor. Rome responded to his petition by appointing a priest of the Diocese of Springfield, Fr. William A. Hickey, as coadjutor with the right of succession. Bishop Hickey was ordained in Providence on April 10, 1919.
Bishop Hickey was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 13, 1869. After attending the public schools in Worcester, he enrolled at Holy Cross College. Following graduation in 1890, he was adopted as a candidate for the priesthood and sent to St. Sulpice, Paris, and later to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was ordained in December 1893 and served in various parishes as an assistant until he was appointed a pastor, first in Gilbertsville, and then in Clinton, Massachusetts. On May 23, 1919, the day after the diocese celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of his ordination as a priest, Bishop Harkins placed the entire administration of diocesan affairs in Bishop Hickey’s hands.
The passing of restrictive immigration laws in the 1920s sharply reduced the stream of immigrants that had swollen the population of the diocese since the late nineteenth century. During his years as bishop, Bishop Hickey created only sixteen new parishes, three of them for the Portuguese. Rather than creating new parishes and institutions, Bishop Hickey’s energies were spent improving the organization of the diocese.
Bishop Hickey realized that if the Church of Providence was to continue to serve the needs of the people of diocese effectively, it too had to be more efficiently organized, especially if it was to meet the challenge of providing the young people of the diocese with a first-rate Catholic education. Among the first tasks he set for himself and the diocese was the conducting of a diocesan drive to collect $400,000 in order to reduce the debt on Providence College and to provide money for additional facilities and equipment. The drive realized over half a million dollars.
During Bishop Hickey’s tenure, fourteen new parish schools were opened and classroom space was provided for the girls under the charge of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. To ensure proper instruction in all the schools of diocese, Bishop Hickey created the office of Diocesan Superintendent of Schools and appointed Fr. Thomas V. Cassidy as superintendent. The diocese’s experience with the summer Teacher’s Institute, which the Sisters of Mercy organized in 1920 and held yearly thereafter, prompted Bishop Hickey to secure an act of incorporation from the General Assembly in 1929 that created the Catholic Teachers College. The college was to serve as the diocesan normal training college to provide teacher preparation and inservice training for the various religious orders working the diocese.
The other major change Bishop Hickey made in the field of Catholic education was in the manner in which the high schools of the diocese were established and funded. The demand for high school education had increased dramatically by the 1920s. The facilities of the one diocesan high school, LaSalle Academy, or the various private and parish high schools could not meet the demand. Additional space was needed both at LaSalle and St. Xavier’s. Furthermore, Bishop Hickey wished to establish new high schools in places where there were large concentrations of high school age youth.
In January 1923, Bishop Hickey announced to the clergy of the diocese at a meeting in cathedral Hall, that he intended to hold a drive aimed at raising one million dollars to fund the construction or acquisition of buildings for new diocesan high schools. Bishop Hickey believed that the individual parishes were no longer capable of building and maintaining schools of the quality he envisioned and that only the diocese as a whole could meet the challenge.
While some who heard the announcement had their doubts that such an undertaking could be successful, Bishop Hickey, who had actively worked in several of the fund raising campaigns organized by the government during the First World War, was convinced that with similar organization diocesan efforts would also be successful. The bishop set goals for each parish to reach and charged each pastor with organizing a committee of parishioners, called Crusaders, so that every parishioner would be personally asked to contribute cash or make a pledge over three years. The campaign began on May 13, 1923 and, by the end of its first week, 70,000 peoples had contributed or pledged over a million dollars.
The monies raised in the French-Canadian parishes in Woonsocket went towards the cost of a new building that the French-Canadians in New England had previously undertaken to construct to replace the College of the Sacred Heart in Precious Blood Parish. Bishop Hickey named the new school, Mount Saint Charles, in honor of the pastor of Precious Blood, Msgr. Charles Dauray. The funds also went to pay for the construction of a new building for LaSalle Academy, capable of accommodating a thousand students, which was opened in 1925. St. Xavier’s was provided with new classrooms and an auditorium which ready in 1929. In addition, Bishop Hickey purchased two large estates in Newport and Pawtucket. In September 1924, the Brothers of the Christian Schools opened two new boys schools, De La Salle Academy in Newport and St. Raphael’s Academy in Pawtucket. In a related development, the Benedictines at Portsmouth Priory, in September 1926, opened the first Benedictine School in the United States, a boarding school for boys.
Bishop William A. Hickey, Catholic Charitable Institutions and CCFA
Unlike Bishop Harkins whose duties and temperment allowed him to take extended vacations away from the diocese, Bishop William A. Hickey seldom left the diocese except for the mandatory trips to Rome and for the meetings of the American bishops in Washington after the formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He enjoyed an occasional round of golf but hours of recreation were few, while his working days were long.
During his first years in the diocese, Bishop Hickey made a careful study of the diocesan institutions that had been created to serve the material as well as the spiritual needs of the people of the diocese and of the state. As the state’s population had grown over the years and needs had increased, many of the buildings which housed the charitable institutions had become overcrowded and, in view of the advances made in construction techniques and medical science, outdated.
In 1925, Bishop Hickey appointed Fr. Charles C. Curran as Director of the Catholic Charities Bureau, and sent him to Catholic University at Washington for a degree in Social Work. When he finished his degree the following year, Fr. Curran opened the Catholic Charities Bureau in the Visitor Building on Fenner Street, Providence. The Charities Bureau was to coordinate the work done by the charitable institutions of the diocese.
In 1927, two years after the Million Dollar High School Drive had ended successfully, Bishop Hickey announced his intention to revive the diocesan drive under the title of the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal with the initial goal of raising a half million dollars to construct new buildings for the various diocesan charities. In addition to raising monies for new construction, the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal, which would be conducted on a yearly basis each May, was also to replace the various fund raising efforts the institutions employed in order to cover their operating expenses. One exception to this consolidation of fund raising efforts was the lawn parties/carnivals and the concerts, the St. Vincent Assembly sponsored each year to support the St. Vincent de Paul Infant Asylum.
Bishop Hickey convened the first Catholic Charity Fund organizational meeting in cathedral Hall at the beginning of April 1927. The pastor of each parish in the diocese attended along with his two trustees. Those present at the meeting adopted a resolution congratulating the bishop for creating the Catholic Charities Bureau and pledging their support of the appeal itself. Much of the initial planning was done by Fr. Curran and William J. Keenan, a leader in the Knights of Columbus. As chairman of this first appeal, Bishop Hickey appointed Judge Frank E. Fitzsimmons, who would also serve as chairman for the second and third appeals. The heart of the appeal was the parish committee and the local chairpersons who organized the appeal on a parish basis so that once again all parishioners would be personally asked to contribute. A committee of prominent laymen was recruited to address the state’s population over the radio in behalf of the appeal. In subsequent years Bishop Hickey himself opened the drive with a radio address.
In the first year of its existence the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal raised $307,101 for the twenty Catholic institutions that received help from the appeal that year. What set the Charity Drive apart from other fund raising activities in the extraordinarily high percentage of contributors to the appeal. The sums realized by the Appeal increased in 1928 and 1929, but, with the stock market crash and the subsequent loss of jobs, the total for 1930 was $302,133, a sum which Bishop Hickey regarded as a miracle. The campaign collected $307,288 in 1931 but, as more and more business closed in subsequent years, the monies realized by the Appeal declined once again to $296,079 in 1932 and to $252,175 in 1933.
Like most Americans, Bishop Hickey believed that American businessmen were quite capable of bringing the country out of the depression, which settled on the nation in 1929, if they were willing to act boldly. On his own part, Bishop Hickey directed his pastors and administrators to speed up any scheduled new construction or renovations so as to provide jobs for those who were unemployed. Between new churches and the buildings that were being financed by the Catholic Charity Appeal almost a million dollars of construction work was in progress in 1930 and another million dollars worth was planned for 1931.
For those who would not benefit either directly or indirectly from the speed up of church construction work, Bishop Hickey, in 1929, also directed that a branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society be established in every parish to meet the needs of the unemployed or underemployed as much as possible. In addition, each charitable institution in the diocese did its part in feeding the hungary who came to their doors daily looking for food. In 1932, the St. Vincent de Paul Society alone spent $147,996 in response to the various requests made of the society. Half of the monies distributed by the parish societies were raised by church collections and by contributions placed in the poor boxes in each church. The rest came from public agencies, private contributions or entertainments which named the society as a beneficiary of the proceeds. The diocese and the various Catholic organizations in the state joined with others groups and agencies in share the food and share the clothes campaigns which helped to provide necessities to those in the state in need regardless of religious affiliation.
In his response to the crisis created by depression, Bishop Hickey displayed the same eager willingness to support projects that would benefit all the people of the state that he had shown since his first days in Rhode Island. His involvement in public affairs, particularly his involvment in support of the poor, earned for him a high degree of respect on the part of the non-Catholics population of the state as well as the Catholic.
Bishop William A. Hickey and The Sentinellists
While Bishop William A. Hickey was highly respected by the majority of the citizens of Rhode Island, his administration was not without controversy. As a preacher, he was forceful but pleasant, equally at home in French and English. He had a quick temper, but he was also was sympathetic, kind and willing to help whenever he could. While he was rightly praised by the majority of his contemporaries for the leadership he gave in enlarging and strengthening the diocese’s educational system and its ability to meet the needs of the poor, the orphaned and the sick, his major initiatives were challenged by ultranationalists within the state’s Franco-American community. The ultranationalists saw the million dollar high school campaign as a threat to their customs and traditions because it could potentially draw funds away from the individual parishes while a system of diocesan high schools would take control over schools from their pastors and place it in the hands of non-French diocesan officials.
In January 1923, the same month that Bishop Hickey announced his intention of conducting the million dollar high school drive to his priests, a group of French-Canadians headed by Elphege Daignault, a Woonsocket lawyer, sent a letter to the Sacred Congregation of the Council in Rome pointing out that in the Diocese of Providence there were ninety-six parishes but only forty-six of them had schools. The signers of the letter asked the Holy Father to intervene to halt the drive in view of the fact that there had already been two drives within the last few years to raise large sums for Providence College. They described the new, even larger drive, as “exorbitant tax that the faithful cannot pay without putting in danger their churches, their schools and all the Catholic works they look after.”
In 1924, Daignault and his supporters began publishing La Sentinelle, a French-language newspaper, that was to serve as a vehicle for their views and to give its name to their movement, The Sentinellists. The paper reported and repeated the various grievances of the ultranationalists and threats the wider community felt to their language and their customs. In 1925, after having consulted canon lawyers in Quebec and hiring an Italian lawyer familiar with the procedures of the Roman Curia, Daignault submitted a formal petition to the Sacred Congregation of the Council asking the Congregation to halt what they continued to describe as an illegal assessment of parish funds on Bishop Hickey’s part. In the course of giving instructions to his pastors as to the manner in which they should submit the funds they collected in the high school drive to the diocese, Bishop Hickey had authorized them to take from parish funds whatever they needed to make up the difference between their parish goals and the amount they had collected up to deadline for reporting the results of the drive. When Bishop Hickey assured the Congregation that his instructions were meant to facilitate the collection of funds in a timely manner and were not to be regard as an assessment, the Congregation dismissed Daignault’s petition as being without grounds.
Mr. Daignault raised a large part of the funds to support his newspaper and the cause he championed at rallies at which he was often one of the main speakers. Other funds came from his two chief but silent clerical supports, Fr. Joseph Beland and Fr. Achille Prince. Both in his newspaper and in his speeches, Daignault threatened to take the ultranationalists’ case to the civil courts in order to secure justice. He hoped in making the threat that he would persuade Bishop Hickey to make some sort of compromise with the French Canadians protesters in order to avoid scandal. However, when Bishop Hickey did not offer any compromise, Daignault, in view of his speeches and rhetoric, had little choice but to carry through with his threat.
In a roughly similar case decided in Bishop Harkins’ days by a Massachusetts court, the judge had upheld the bishop’s right to use parish funds for the good of the whole Church as well as that of the local parish. When the Rhode Island courts took up the case both the superior court judge, who initially heard the case, and the Supreme Court justices, to whom Daignault appealed the verdict rendered against him by the superior court, also upheld the bishop’s position. Previous to the civil court verdict, Bishop Hickey had removed Fr. Prince as pastor of St. Louis, Woonsocket, and placed an administrator in charge of Fr. Beland’s parish, Notre Dame, Central Falls. Fr. Prince’s removal prompted another pew rent strike in Woonsocket in which a substantial number of French-Canadians joined.
After the civil courts had decided the case, Bishop Hickey announced the penalty of excommunication that canon law imposed on Daignault and the fifty-five others, who had signed the papers supporting the petition Daignault submitted to the courts, because they did so without permission. In addition to the decrees of excommunication, Bishop Hickey also announced that Rome had placed of La Sentinelle on the Index. When news of the ban on La Sentinelle was published by several Canadian bishops, who the Sentinellists felt had supported them in the past, the position of Daignault’s group was severely weaken. After a second trip to Rome to personally plead his case failed to secure even an appointment with Roman officials and with the deadline for the imposition of the Church penalties approaching, Mr. Daignault complied with the conditions laid down by Bishop Hickey for absolution. Eventually all Daignault’s remaining supporters did as well.
While unsuccessful in achieving of the “recognition” he desired for the French Canadians in the diocese, Mr. Daignault continued his struggle on a smaller stage for many years. The Sentinellist Controversy, in its day, drew a degree of national and international attention to the diocese. In spite of the attention Daignault’s cause received, the majority of the French-Canadian clergy and laity in the diocese supported Bishop Hickey throughout the controversy.
Bishop Francis P. Keough: Seminary and Schools
When Bishop William A. Hickey died on October 4, 1933 of a heart attack as age sixty-four, the whole state mourned his passing. During the interim when the diocese was without a bishop, Msgr. Peter E. Blessing served as administrator. In February 12, 1934, apostolic delegate informed the diocese that Rome had appointed Fr. Francis P. Keough, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, as the third Bishop of Providence.
Bishop Keough was born into strong Catholic environment in New Britain, Connecticut, on December 30, 1890. At the insistence of his aunt, he was named after Bishop Francis B. McFarland. The young Francis Keough attended his parish school, St. Mary’s, and went on to St. Thomas Seminary in Hartford, which Bishop Michael Tierney had established after he became Bishop of Hartford in 1894. While rector of the Cathedral under Bishop McFarland, then Fr. Tierney had founded the Cathedral Boys School which later became LaSalle Academy. Following his years at St. Thomas, Francis Keough was sent to Issy, near Paris, where the Seminary of St. Sulpice was located. He was called home in 1914 because of the outbreak of the First World War and completed his theological studies at St. Bernard’s, Rochester. After his ordination to the priesthood on June 10, 1916, he served as an assistant in Meriden. Several years later, he was reassigned to the Cathedral in Hartford where he became assistant chancellor in addition to other assignments. Francis Keough was ordained Bishop of Providence on May 22, 1934.
When Bishop Keough took up his duties in Providence, the people of Rhode Island were still struggling with the impact of the depression. In 1941 they would have also to meet the challenge of the Second World War. During Bishop Keough years as head of the diocese, the Catholic populations of the state rose from 328,528 in 1934 to 427,364 in 1948. In 1934, when Bishop Keough arrived, there were 270 secular priests and 95 religious. When he left in 1948, there were 344 seculars and 145 religious. Because of the increase in priests, Bishop Keough was able to found fifteen new parishes, most of which had been missions prior to his time.
He also gave St. Mary’s, Crompton, a resident pastor again.
Several of the new parishes founded by Bishop Keough were in the southern half of the state. In the 1930s, the priests he assigned to serve as chaplains to the units of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the state reported to him that many of the boys who lived in the rural areas had had little or no contact with the Church. To better provide for Catholics in southern part of the diocese near the Connecticut line, Bishop Keough, in 1939, set off St. Joseph’s, Hope Valley, from Immaculate Conception, Westerly, and made it a new parish. After the war, in 1946, he set off St. Vincent de Paul’s, Bradford; Our Lady of Victory, Ashaway and St. Mary’s, Carolina as separate parishes.
A graduate of a minor seminary, Bishop Keough came to Providence with the hope of establishing a similar institution in his new diocese. In 1937, he began sending priests to graduate schools in order to obtain the advanced degrees a seminary faculty would need. The 1938 hurricane, which brought death and destruction to the state, also created a opportunity for the diocese to acquire a very desirable site for a seminary. The hurricane did substantial damage to the estate of former Senator Nelson W. Aldrich on Warwick NecK. The senator’s son, Edward, who had had his disagreements with the town of Warwick over the level at which the town taxed the estate, when faced with the cost of repairing the mansion house after the hurricane, decided to sell the estate to the diocese for about $75,000. After spending two years in preparing the Aldrich House and grounds for their new use, Bishop Keough opened Our Lady of Providence Seminary at Warwick Neck in the fall of 1939 with Fr. Russell J. McVinney as its first rector.
Bishop Keough’s years also saw the opening of the first Catholic college for women in the diocese. Bishop Hickey had first expressed the hope of seeing a Catholic woman’s college opened in the diocese in 1926. In the fall of 1933, the Sisters of Mercy requested a charter from the state which was granted in March 1934. In the initial announcement, it was noted that the college was to be affiliated with Providence College. Because of difficulties in finding a suitable site and raising the necessary monies during the depression years, definite plans for a women’s college did not take shape until 1947 when Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wilson Goelets of Newport offered their estate, Ochre Court, to the diocese to be used for “cultural and intellectual pursuits.” By 1947, the diocese had given up the idea of sponsoring the proposed college, but the Sisters of Mercy decided to accept the Goelet’s offer and fund the college exclusively from their own resources. In September 1947, sisters welcomed the first students to Salve Regina College.
Seven years previous to the opening of Salve Regina, Herbert C. Pell, the American Minister to Portugal, had donated his Bellevue Avenue resident in Newport to the diocese. In September 1940, the diocese opened St. Catherine’s Academy for the high school girls of the Newport area. In addition to St. Catherine’s, St. Patrick’s, Providence, opened a parish high schools for girls in 1933. In 1940, Notre Dame, Central Falls, expanded its two year commercial course for girls to a four year program and, in 1941, Charles, Providence, also opened a parish high school for girls. In addition to the four high schools, fourteen parishes opened elementary schools during Bishop Keough’s years.
Bishop Francis Keough and the Social Ministry
As assistant chancellor in Hartford and later as Bishop of Providence, Francis P. Keough showed an innate capacity for administrative and executive work. He combined these talents with a gracious personality and a rare gift of friendliness. As head of the diocese, he was able to convey his own concern for the poor, the sick, the orphaned and the aged to the people of the Rhode Island in such a way that the sums realized by the Catholic Charity Fund initiated by Bishop Hickey rose from $262,563 in 1933 to $909,018 in 1948. The rise in the level of contributions was due in large measure to the zeal of the volunteers who canvassed the parishes and to organizing ability of Fr. (later Msgr.) Thomas F. McKitchen who served for many years as director of the drive. The rise is also explained by the dedication and leadershop of the lay chairman of each year’s drive and the continued effective use of the media in conveying the good done by charity drive contributions However, a major cause was also the rise in wages and the return to prosperity occasioned by the Second World War. Nevertheless, when all these factors are considered, Bishop Keough’s own leadership and personality remains one of the important elements in the appeal’s success. To better utilize the funds collected, Bishop Keough approved the reorganization of the former Catholic Charities Bureau as the Bureau of Social Service and established it in new quarters on Park Street, Providence.
The monies from the Charity Appeal funded the building of a new St. Aloysius Orphanage in Greenville and the construction of a new building for Hospice St. Antoine in North Smithfield. The monies always went to funding new programs. Among Bishop Keough’s concerns on coming to the diocese was the diocese’s lack of a youth program. Fr. Frederick Moreau, an assistant in St. Ann’s Woonsocket, had begun organizing boy scout troops among the French-Canadian youth but nothing was being done in the 1930s for older boys and young men, many of whom were unable to find work as they had before the depression. In the summer of 1935, Bishop Keough sent Fr. Moreau and Fr. William Delaney, who had been recommended to him as being good with young people, to the Summer Session in Boy Leadership which was sponsored by the Boy Life Bureau of the Knights of Columbus at Notre Dame University.
After they finished the course, Fr. Moreau continued to work in organizing scout troops which Bishop Keough favored over Boys Brigades, while Fr. Delaney undertook both the promotion of scouting in the English-speaking parishes and the creating of a Catholic Youth Organization for all the youth of the diocese. The Catholic Youth Organization sponsored basketball leagues composed of teams organized by the various parochial schools as well as summer baseball leagues. In 1937, the CYO opened a gymnasium on the third floor of Infantry Hall in Providence where one of the main activities was boxing. The gym provided an outlet for the energies of young men, seventeen to twenty-five who were unemployed, as well as for younger boys after school was out for the day. As CYO leagues and other activities were developed in parishes outside of Providence, Fr. Delaney arranged for the appointment of regional or sectional directors from among the clergy to assist him and his lay staff. In 1939, the CYO held its first parade on the Feast of Christ when the various parish organizations march to the Cathedral in Providence for a mass on the patronal feast day of the organization. In 1942, a fire heavily damaged Infantry Hall. Fr. Delaney moved the administrative offices of the CYO to the Visitor Building and later secured the use of the gym in St. Patrick’s School, Providence, for the CYO sports programs.
In 1936, Fr. Arthur Bienvenue, an assistant at Precious Blood Church, Woonsocket, began recruiting the first members of a Jocist group among the girls at St. Clare’s High School in Woonsocket. The Jocist Movement, which had its origins in Europe, was a form of Catholic Action which sought to spread Christian virtue through the conduct of its members. After six years of experimenting with the methods of the Jocist movement and adapting them to the American environment, Fr. Bienvenue, with the support of Bishop Keough, organized a Diocesan Study Day in August 1942 for priests, nuns and lay leaders with the aim of forming cells of the organization in the various French-speaking schools of the diocese. In May 1943, the Jocist Movement had expanded to the point where it needed to organized a Diocesan Committee and open an office at 1 Social Street in Woonsocket. In November 1944, the organization held its first study day for workers. In the course of their discussions, the participants in the study day reached an agreement on how to form parochial cells in order to bring Catholic principles into the work place.
Workers during the Depression Era and the prosperous years of the World War II had made significant gains due to government support. In order to preserve the gains of organized labor and to promote harmony between labor and management in the post war years, Bishop Keough also gave him blessing to creating a Labor School for priests who would then establish Labor Schools for both management and labor in various centers of the diocese. In June 1944, 125 priests attended a conference at Our Lady of Providence Seminary arranged by Fr. Edmund F. Brock at which Fr. Raymond McGowan, associate director of the National Catholic Welfare Council and a priest long active in labor affairs, urged his fellow priests to acquaint themselves with matters of particular concern to both the worker and his employer. In October 1944, the Social Action Institute, which was directed by Fr. Brock, opened Labor Schools in Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket which sought to provide a general knowledge of the principles and techniques essential to the solution of labor problems.
Bishop Keough, the Legion of Decency & World War II
Bishop Francis P. Keough, throughout his years as bishop, supported the work of the Legion of Decency. The Legion was created in response to an address by the apostolic delegate to the Charities Convention in New York city in 1933 during which the delegate urged the American Church to unite in a campaign to bring about an end to the showing of immoral films. A committee of American bishops developed the idea of the Legion of Decency which spread quickly throughout the nation. On December 8, 1935, the Catholics of Rhode Island were first called upon to take a public pledge to only patronized movies that were wholesome. A few weeks before the pledge was taken, the Providence Visitor began printing as a guide a list of films rated according to their moral content.
Among those who used the Legion of Decency’s list as a guide was the Providence police captain who served as the department’s amusement inspector. He and his assistant never approved for showing in Providence films that were listed in the Legion’s Class C as morally offensive. On his part, Bishop Keough would serve for several years as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Motion Pictures and as chairman of its review committee. He had a projection room built in the basement of the cathedral rectory and, for a three year period, screened every movie shown in Providence.
A year before Bishop Keough came to the diocese, Bishop Hickey, in a Catholic Press month letter sent to all the parishes, urged the people of the state to insist that the local authorities rigorously enforce the local and state laws banning the sale of pornographic magazines and books to children. In response to the bishop’s urging and that of local clergy, various police departments began keeping a closer watch on newsdealers and bookstores. In 1938, the Providence Visitor initiated a campaign to rid the state of the work of “The Devil’s Press.” The Visitor called upon Catholic organizations in the state to support the drive by urging their members (and anyone else who would wish to support them) to sign a pledge that they would patronize only dealers who sold good literature and boycott those who did not. Vendors were also asked to sign a pledge to sell only wholesome materials. Those who did were given a sign to place in their place of business announcing their support of the drive. By April, the Visitor had received over two hundred thousand pledge cards from both Catholics and non-Catholics.
In addition to lending his support to the Visitor’s drive against indecent literature, Bishop Keough was also named honorary president of the editorial board of the Pro Parvulis Book Club, a national organization for fostering good reading habits in children. In 1939, Bishop Keough launched the Students Catholic Press Crusade in the diocese. The crusade aimed at organizing the 30,000 Catholic school children to undertake a canvas of the parishes to solicit subscriptions to the Providence Visitor so as to get Catholic literature into Catholic homes.
During the course of the Second World War, parochial school students would also be called upon to act as sales agents for war bonds and stamps. Collectively, Catholic school children sold well over a million dollars worth of bonds and stamps during the course of the war. In addition to lending money to their government through the purchase of bonds, the people of the diocese and their fellow Rhode Islanders collected aluminum and other strategic materials to support the government’s war effort. In response to the call of the American bishops, Rhode Islanders also collected tons of canned goods and clothing for the peoples of Europe, particularly for those of Italy and Poland.
During the war numerous parishes held services during which the pastors blessed national and papal flags, which were then set up in the sanctuaries, and read the names of those in the parish serving in the armed forces. In the larger city parishes and many of the smaller rural ones, the names of several hundreds servicemen and women were inscribed on the parish honor rolls. The various patriotic services held in the parishes were largely attended as were the novenas, whose popularly had begun to take hold before the war.
In November 1942, the government recognized Bishop Keough’s role as community leader in asking him to give the blessing at the launching of the first Liberty ship built in the Rheem Shipyard at Field’s Point in Providence. In August 1944, Msgr. Peter E. Blessing, the state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, was invited to bless the SS William Tyler, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Maine, with funds raised by the Knights and named after the first Bishop of Hartford. The Franco-American fraternal and benevolent societies in New England headed a bond drive among the French-Canadian communities with the aim of funding the construction of several Liberty ships to which many in Rhode Island contributed and the Polish community in Rhode Island raised funds for a Liberator bomber.
In order to serve the spiritual needs of the men and women in the armed forces, twenty-nine priests, both diocesan priests and religious order priests serving in the state, volunteered for duties as chaplains in the armed forces. Several of them were decorated for valor in caring out of their duties. Two of those who volunteered, Fr. Valmore Savignac and Fr. Anthony E. Czubak, both Army chaplains, were killed during the course of the war, Fr. Savignac in June 1942 and Fr. Czubak in January 1945. In May 1951, after a drive sponsored by Franco-American and Polish war veterans to raise funds to furnish it, the government dedicated the Czubak-Savignac Memorial Oratory in the new Veterans’ Memorial Hospital in Providence.
Bishop Russell J. McVinney and the Growth of the Diocese
In December 1947, Bishop Francis P. Keough was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore. Monsignor Blessing again served as administrator of the diocese until it was announced in June that Fr. Russell J. McVinney, a native Rhode Islander and the priest whom Bishop Keough had appointed as rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, had been chosen to be the fifth Bishop of Providence.
Bishop McVinney was born in Warren, Rhode Island, on November 25, 1898 and baptized in St. Mary’s of the Bay in December. Shortly after he was born, the McVinney family moved to the then sparsely settled but growing Mount Pleasant section of Providence. Since his parish church in Providence, Blessed Sacrament, did not have a parish school, Bishop McVinney attended the local public schools. Like so many other young people in Mount Pleasant in the early part of the century, he also attended Fr. Simmons’ School of Religion as Blessed Sacrament’s religious education program was called. After grammar school, he enrolled at LaSalle Academy and graduated from there in 1916. He continued his education at St. Charles Seminary, Catonsville, Maryland, the Grand Seminary in Montreal, and at St. Bernard’s Seminary, Rochester. When the American College in Louvain, was reopened after the first World War, he was sent to Europe and was ordained in Louvain on July 18, 1924.
After a short temporary assignment at the Cathedral, Fr. McVinney was appointed assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s, Harrisville, where he served until 1929 when he was appointed assistant pastor in St. Edward’s, Pawtucket, and teacher at St. Raphael’s Academy. In 1935, he went to study journalism at the University of Notre Dame after which he was again assigned to the Cathedral as an assistant and associate editor of the Providence Visitor. In 1941, he took up his new duties as rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary.
Bishop McVinney would preside over the diocese during the years of the baby boom and the growth of new suburbs around the cities of Rhode Island. In order to provide for the growing and shifting Catholic population of the diocese, Bishop McVinney created twenty-eight new parishes, most all of them in the suburbs and rapidly growing rural areas. Since through the 1960s, most pastors and parents continued to stress the importance of a Catholic education, Bishop McVinney also oversaw the establishment of forty new parochial schools and the building of many new buildings for existing schools. As the population of school age children expanded, both the public and private school systems struggled to keep abreast of the need. The increasing number of schools stretched not only the financial resources of the Church but also its personnel resources. When the number of schools outraced the number of vocations, many parish schools had to resort to tuition payments for the first time in order to pay the salaries of lay teachers.
Among the early projects Bishop McVinney undertook with Catholic Charity Funds was the building of a new hospital for the chronically ill, Our Lady of Fatima, in North Providence. The hospital opened in 1954 and soon expanded into a community hospital.
As bishop, Russell McVinney was not only concerned with meeting the physical needs of his people but their spiritual needs as well. Within the first year of his episcopate, Bishop McVinney sought to revivify the Holy Name Societies in the diocese which had played important roles in many parishes in the years between the wars as the key to a spiritual revival of the whole diocese. In October 1949, over 51,000 men took part in a candlelight Holy Hour at Narragansett Race Track in Pawtucket organized by the Holy Name Society. During the 1950-51 Holy Year, two other large public services were held at Narragansett Park. The apostolic delegate presided at a mass attended by 36,000 women and over 7,000 children on June 9, 1951, and an estimated 60,000 men were present for a rosary service the following day. Later that same year, Fr. Patrick Peyton preached at the Rosary Crusade held at the park which also drew large crowds and served as the kickoff for a campaign in the parishes to secure pledges of the saying of the family rosary. Thousands turned out once again for another outdoor rally at Narragansett Park during the Marian Year in 1954.
The large rallies of the 1950s were complimented by the growing popularity of the closed retreat. Individuals could make closed retreats at the Cenacle in Newport, the Trappists in Cumberland and the Benedictines in Portsmouth. In the 1930s, closed group retreats became very popular among the French Canadians. In 1950, the Oblates of Mary opened Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Manville to serve as a center for French-language retreats. When in 1939, Bishop Keough bought the Aldrich property at Warwick Neck he envisioned that the buildings would also be used as a retreat house during the summer. Fr. Edmund Brock conducted the first closed retreat at Warwick Neck in 1950 as part of his work with the Labor Schools. In 1951, Fr. Brock persuaded William J. Halloran, who was working on the retreat program, to sell to the diocese the Hazard estate at Narragansett that he had recently purchased for use as a retreat house. Fr. Brock held the first retreat at the Our Lady of Peace Retreat Center in January 1952. A few years earlier, on May 1, 1948, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion opened the Immaculate Heart of Mary retreat center at Peace Dale. In 1954, Bishop McVinney dedicated a youth retreat center dedicated to St. Dominic Savio on a donated farm in Peace Dale.
Bishop Russell J. McVinney and Social Causes
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the popes and bishops made repeatedly urged Catholics to take up an active role in society. In the program of Catholic Action advocated by the Church, spiritual development was seen as a preparation for active involvement in society. In 1956, the Providence Visitor began carrying a series of articles describing the various groups in the diocese that served the Church and society, a series that extended to thirty-four articles describing ways in which Catholics were actively involved in the work of the Church.
The social action that Bishop Russell J. McVinney was most comfortable with was that which took place behind the scenes of public life. He was totally committed to social justice in principle but only rarely did he publicly speak out as chief teacher of the Church. Early in his career as bishop, he joined the Urban League and he consistently supported the long campaign waged in the state to secure equal housing legislation. In the campaign for equal housing, the Visitor under Fr. Edward Flannery was a leading and intelligent voice.
In 1951, when a group of lay men and women formed a Providence branch of the Interracial Racial Council in 1951, Bishop McVinney appointed Fr. Anthony I. Robinson as moderator of the group. The first Catholic Interracial Council was established in New York by a Rhode Islander, Fr. John LaFarge, S.J. Fr. Robinson was an assistant at the Assumption Parish, who had shown an interest in ministry to the African Americans among his parishioners. Previous to his appointment as moderator, the bishop had officially appointed him as head of special apostolate which sought to serve the needs of the African Americans in the city. In 1954, with the bishop’s support, Fr. Robinson founded the Martin de Porres Center on Cranston Street to serve as the focus point of his work. Bishop McVinney backed Fr. Robinson’s efforts and supplied the funds for the building a new center in April 1965.
In the 1940s and 50s, Catholic activism was closely associated with liturgical reform which sought to involve the Catholic more actively in worship. In 1949, the Religious of the Sacred Heart at Elmhurst, Providence, sponsored a five-day liturgical music course given by nationally recognized experts on Church music. The following year, Bishop McVinney announced the formation of the Gregorian School of Music headed Fr. Norman LeBoeuf that would begun holding classes at Elmhurst for church organists and choir directors. Fr. LeBoeuf engaged as part of his faculty, a young musician, who had recently been hired a the Cathedral organist, C. Alexander Peloquin. Dr. Peloquin would over the course of his service at the Cathedral win national notice for his work as a composer. As early as 1955, the impact of the Liturgical Movement, which had its roots in Europe, began to be felt in Rhode Island. In that year, the Congregation of Rites introduced a major reform of the liturgy of Holy Week. These changes foreshadowed even more significant ones in the years ahead.
Among the most daring of endeavors undertaken by Bishop McVinney was the founding of a diocesan order of Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Providence. The problems involved in founding a religious order were considerable but Bishop McVinney believed that the diocese needed a religious order under diocesan control to engaged in catechetical, nursing, childcare and social work. He announced his intention of founding an order in March 1955 and formally established the society at their Hillsgrove Novitiate on September 8, 1955. In 1959, Bishop McVinney also founded a society of diocesan brothers, the Brothers of Our Lady of Providence.
By 1953, the seminary at Warwick Neck had become overcrowded and new buildings were needed to accommodate the increasing number of seminarians. Bishop McVinney had plans drawn up for a complex of new buildings and placed the responsibility for carrying them out in the hands of the seminary’s recent appointed rector, Fr. (later Msgr.) Arthur A. Sullivan. In order to raise funds for the construction of the complex, Bishop McVinney launched a drive which aimed at raising a million dollars to cover the cost of the buildings. The new seminary chapel was consecrated by Bishop McVinney on August 21, 1957 and the whole new seminary was dedicated by the apostolic delegate on the new day.
In the 1950s and 60s, the face of Providence began to change physically as the city government undertook to clear and redevelop large parts of the city and the federal government built Route 95 through it. Immaculate Conception Church and School were closed in 1956 due to the redevelopment of Providence’s North End and St. Hedwig’s on North Main Street was closed and torn down as part of the redevelopment of University Heights. The redevelopment of the area around the Cathedral offered the diocese the opportunity to construct a Diocesan Office Building in which it could consolidate its various diocesan agencies and provide them with more space. To fund the construction of the office building, long delayed restoration work on the Cathedral, an urgently needed new building at St. Joseph’s Hospital as well as the building of a number of new diocesan high schools in areas where the Catholic population was growing rapidly, Bishop McVinney initiated a Bishop’s Campaign in 1963 which raised over nine million dollars.
Even more important changes began to take place in the Church in the 1960s with the calling of the Second Vatican Council. Bishop McVinney had worked to update the Church of Providence in 1952, when after three years of preparation, he convoked the Fourth Synod of the diocese on October 8, 1952. The Second Vatican Council was not only to update the administration and discipline of the Church as did the Providence Synod but was to bring about important developments in all aspects of the Church’s life. As a man who was essentially conservative, Bishop McVinney did not think much needed to be changed in the Church when he attended the first of the Council’s sessions in the fall of 1962. The council was to prove to the occasion for a theological updating for him as it was for many other American bishops before it held its final session in 1965.
Bishop Russell J. McVinney, Vatican II and a Changing America
The reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council that had the most immediate impact on the people of the diocese were the liturgical reforms. To direct the implementation of the reforms, Bishop McVinney created a Diocesan Liturgical Commission in June 1964. The commission was to educate both the clergy and the laity in the background of the reforms so that they might understand and accept the changes.
The Vatican decrees on the Liturgy also created new work for the Diocesan Building Commission which Bishop McVinney had created in 1949 to assist him in the consideration of the various designs for new construction and renovations that came to him for approval. Bishop McVinney would not allow priests to erect new altars at which they could offer Mass facing the people that were not dignified and that did not conform to the architecture of the churches. Both commissions carried out the mind of the bishop that the liturgical changes mandated by the Council be introduced in an orderly fashion.
Also in response to decrees of the Vatican Council, Bishop McVinney established one of the first Diocesan Ecumenical Commissions in the United States in January 1965. Among the Commission’s first actions was the publication of a set of guidelines for ecumenical activities in the diocese. Bishop McVinney set an example for the diocese by regularly participating in ecumenical services.
Because the Council held that social justice was a constitutive part of the Church’s ministry, Bishop McVinney formalized the work of Fr. Henry Shelton among the poor in Providence by creating in September 1966 the Catholic Inner City Apostolate. The Apostolate established its office in a storefront on Prairie Avenue in September 1967. Fr. Shelton’s apostolate sponsored summer Lay Mission Training Programs for young Catholics wishing to become personally involved in helping the poor and also a Sisters Summer Program in the Inner City. In addition to the Inner City Apostolate, Bishop McVinney, in August 1967, created the Diocesan Human Relations Commission to organize and direct the diocese’s efforts in the work of social justice.
Unfortunately the challenges presented by the Vatican Council to reform and renew the Church coincided with powerful upheavals in American society of which the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements were a part. Until the 1950s, American Catholics in their ethnic ghettoes had for the most part remained isolated from the stormy currents of American life. However, during the years following the end of World War II, American Catholics became an integral part of the American middle class and came to be represented proportionally in all levels and interests in American life. The call of the Vatican Council to open the windows and bring fresh air into the Church harmonized with the process of assimilation going on in the American Church but the reforms initiated by the Council also brought a spirit of questioning as familiar practices were renewed while others were discarded.
Not only were Catholic beliefs jolted by the Council but by the challenge presented to the fabric of American society by the civil rights movement and the disruptions and violence which followed in its wake. In the 1960s, the focus of many reformers in American society shifted to the justice of America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam. The challenging of social norms and behaviors led also to a rejection of traditional norms in respect to sexual behavior and gender roles. The troubles adolescents encountered in the growing process even in the best of times were aggravated by the religious and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.
The impact of both religious and social change occurring together was seen in the steady decline in Mass attendance from the high levels of the 1950s. Among those who experienced the changes in Church and Society most profoundly were the religious professionals, the priests, sisters and brothers, who had given their lives to the Church. They were the ones most apt to respond to the moral appeal of idealistic movement outside the Church as they did in the case of the civil rights, the grape-workers strike, and the peace movement. The slowness of the official Church in taking action against the evils of American society became one of the most common complaints among the clergy and religious. Divisions within the Sisters of Our Lady of Providence and a decline in vocations caused the society to disband in June 1968.
The resignations of religious and the declining number of vocations aggravated the financial crisis the Catholic Schools in the diocese were experiencing in the 1960s as lay teachers had had to be hired to fill out the faculties of the rapidly expanding school system. As the numbers of religious in the diocese declined, more lay teachers were needed. In order to pay teachers a just salary, parishes had to increase tuition rates which in turn speeded up the decline in enrollment in parish schools. Beginning in the late sixties, the weakest of the parish schools had no choice but to close. The rise in teacher salaries put particular strain on the Catholic high schools which lacked endowments to help spread out the cost of educating students.
Perhaps the greatest sorrow Bishop McVinney experienced in his latter years was the resignation of his priests, some of whom also left the Church. Among those who resigned their office was his auxiliary, Bishop Bernard M. Kelly. Bishop Kelly was the second of the two auxiliaries who served under Bishop McVinney. Bishop Thomas F. Maloney, who was ordained bishop in May 1960, died two years later on September 10, 1962. After his ordination as bishop in January 1964, Bishop Kelly took on many administrative duties in the diocese and, in time, came to play an active part in the social justice and anti-war movements. However, he would become frustrated with the prevailing attitude and policies of his fellow bishops as they responded to the problem of Church and society and on June 14, 1971, he resigned from the priesthood. Two months later, Bishop McVinney, whose health had been declining for a while, died of a heart attack at the bishop’s summer place in Watch Hill at age seventy-two.
Bishop Louis E. Gelineau and the Reorganization of the Diocese
Following Bishop Russell J. McVinney’s death in August 1971, Msgr. Daniel P. Reilly, the chancellor of the diocese, served as administrator. In December, the apostolic delegate announced that Rome had chosen Msgr. Louis E. Gelineau, vicar general of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, as the sixth Bishop of Providence.
Bishop Gelineau was born in Burlington on May 3, 1928. He grew up in a Franco-American family in which his parents were active in their parish church and two of his cousins were priests and four were nuns. He went to St. Joseph’s School in Burlington and later to Cathedral High in the same city. After three years at Cathedral he spent one year at St. Thomas Seminary in Hartford. He returned to Vermont for two years of college at St. Michael’s in Winooski and then went to St. Paul’s University Seminary in Ottawa, Canada, for studies in philosophy and theology before his ordination on June 5, 1953. After serving as an assistant in two Vermont parishes, the new bishop of Vermont, Bishop Robert F. Joyce, sent him to the Catholic University in Washington to study Canon Law. When he got his degree after two years, then Fr. Gelineau became assistant chancellor. He was named chancellor in 1961 and vicar general in 1968.
The new bishop was warmly received in his new diocese where he was ordained to the episcopacy on January 26, 1972. From the beginning to his service to the diocese, Bishop Gelineau resolved that he would emphasize the pastoral dimension of his new office. As a person who genuinely enjoyed meeting others, from his first days as bishop, he has kept a schedule filled with meetings, parish celebrations, anniversary dinners, special liturgies and Confirmations. He has often found the time in the midst of his work as administrator and shepherd to do the work of pastor by visiting the sick in the hospital and nursing homes.
In order to emphasize the pastoral dimension of his office, Bishop Gelineau, during his first years in Providence, continued the administrative reshaping of the diocese that had begun under Bishop McVinney. He established a fruitful working relationship with the Priests’ Senate that had been organized in 1967 to advise and assist the bishop. The various committee’s of the Senate had previously developed a variety of proposals that the Senate had shaped in discussion before presenting them to Bishop McVinney, among them a priests’ retirement plan which was adopted in 1968. Under the proposal approved by Bishop McVinney in February, a special fund was set up that would fund priests’ salaries after they retired from the active ministry. All priests seventy-five or older were immediately eligible for retirement. Eventually the retirement age was lowered to seventy. Allowing priests to retire at a given age would mean other priests became pastors at an earlier age than before while the retired priests still had an opportunity to remain active if they chose. In 1978, in a move to streamline administrative structures, the Priests’ Senate was replaced by a Diocesan Council of Priests, which was to reach its decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote.
During his first year as bishop, Bishop Gelineau also undertook a major restructuring of the diocese’s administration. In April 1972, he appointed Msgr. Daniel P. Reilly Vicar General of the diocese. Msgr. Reilly’s appointment was unusual in that he was to be the first full time vicar general with an office in the Diocesan Office Building. As vicar general, Msgr. Reilly was to exercise ordinary jurisdiction in Bishop Gelineau’s name and represent him in spiritual and temporal matters.
In August 1974, the diocese received word that Rome had acceded to Bishop Gelineau’s request for an auxiliary bishop and had chosen Msgr. Kenneth A. Angell, then serving as chancellor of the diocese, to fill the post. Bishop Angell was ordained in the Cathedral on October 7, 1974. With the announcement of Bishop Angell’s nomination as auxiliary bishop, Bishop Gelineau announced that the Bishop Angell would be appointed Vicar General and serve in the office along with Msgr. Reilly. In June 1975, Msgr. Reilly was named Bishop of Norwich, Connecticut. Bishop Angell, who enjoyed a good working relationship and a close friendship with Bishop Gelineau, continued to serve the Diocese of Providence until he was appointed Bishop of Burlington, on October 6, 1992.
In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and in the interest of collegiality, Bishop Gelineau, within the first two years of his administration, also appointed a number of episcopal vicars who were to exercise the bishop’s authority in administering specialized areas of the diocese. The number of vicars and their areas of responsibility have varied over the years. At present there are five episcopal vicars who assist in the central administration of the diocese: Canonical Affairs, Education, Judicial Matters, Planning and Finance, Social Ministry and Spirituality and Evangelization. In addition to the vicars being given diocesan responsibilities, Bishop Gelineau continued the practice, initiated under Bishop McVinney, of dividing the diocese into deaneries. Like the system of vicars, the number of deaneries and the responsibilities of the deans has evolved. At present there are nine deaneries and the deans also share the title of episcopal vicars. In many areas of administration under Bishop Gelineau, lay people and religious have been given important responsibilities both as administrators and as advisors.
Bishop Louis E. Gelineau and Vatican II
Bishop Louis E. Gelineau took up the duties of bishop at one of the more challenging times in the history of the American Catholic Church. The upheavals experienced by the Church and State in the 1960s carried over into the 1970s. The decline in Mass attendance among the laity continued as did the decline in vocations while discontent and the resignations among clergy and religious remained high.
Within a year of his taking up of his new duties, Bishop Gelineau, in October 1972, committed the diocese to a program of goal-setting on the diocesan and parish levels. The purpose of the multi-year program was to identify priorities on all levels and direct the available resources to meeting them. Twenty years later, in 1992, Bishop Gelineau fuller developed the process of planning when he appointed Leo P. Cornelius to a five year term as the diocese’s director of Strategic Planning and Development. In 1993, the diocese created a Strategic Planning Committee headed by John Carey which undertook a year-long effort to involve as many in the diocese as possible in a comprehensive review of the diocese’s needs and resources.
Parallel to the reorganization of diocesan administration, which began in the late 1960s, was that which took place in the parishes. In 1970, rather than appointing the traditional pastor and assistants, Bishop McVinney began experimenting with the appointment of teams of priests to St. Michael’s and other, mostly inner city, parishes. Some of the teams choose to formally share responsibility for ministry in their parishes with the religious and lay people who worked with them. In parishes where the traditional structure of pastor and assistant continued, pastoral assistants were also recruited from among the religious and laity, and staff meetings became a part of the week’s routine. In 1972 Bishop Gelineau created a commission to aid in the formation of parish councils which many, by not all, parishes formed. In various parishes, parish councils have been complimented by or have given way to finance councils after the finance councils were mandated in the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983.
Among the advantages of being a highly compact diocese is that it is possible to gather almost all the priests of the diocese together in one place for a day or multi-day program. Beginning in the 1970s, the priests of the diocese gathered yearly for Pastoral Conferences held at Our Lady of Providence Seminary on Warwick Neck. Previous to the holding of the conferences at the Seminary, a variety of ongoing opportunities for pastoral updating and enrichment had been offered to the priests on a voluntary basis.
One area of the Church’s ministry that caused the diocese particular concern in the 1970s and 80s was that of Catholic education. The Catholic School system in the diocese had reached its height under Bishop McVinney when approximately 106 out of 154 parishes had parish schools. In 1962, Bishop McVinney had reconstituted the Diocesan School Board so that a majority of its members were henceforth lay people and, in October 1969, placed the Catholic Schools of the diocese under the School Board’s authority which it exercised through the Diocesan Superintendent of Schools. In June 1972, Fr. Edward W. K. Mullen resigned as Diocesan Superintendent of Schools and Brother Stephen O’Hara, F.S.C, succeeded him, ending the tradition of a priest being superintendent.
Brother O’Hara, who had previously been an assistant superintendent within the diocesan administration, became superintendent at the critical time in the history of the diocese. In 1968, various parishes began closing their schools as enrollments dropped to the point where they could not afford to provide a quality education since teacher salaries now constituted the greater part of their budgets. In order to ease the financial burden of the schools on the parishes, Fr. Mullen, in his last years as superintendent, had begun to create regional schools whose operating expenses were shared by a number of parishes and whose administration was accountable to a regional school board. In these schools, income came primarily from tuitions with the supporting parishes providing a subsidy. In all, sixty-five elementary schools and twelve high schools either closed or merged with others. Enrollment in Catholic Schools continued to decline until 1980 when the system experience its first increase since 1963. However, another fifteen years would pass until signs of growth in the system reappeared.
The closing of schools in the face of deteriorating financial support and shifting populations never proved to be a simple matter. In 1961, the High School Department at Our Lady of Providence Seminary was set off from the College section under its own rector, Fr. Robert Newbold, and opened its doors to any qualified student who wished to attend. The resulting increase in enrollment and the need for a more central location prompted the Our Lady of Providence High School to move to the former St. Vincent de Paul Infant Asylum on Regent Avenue in Providence which was renovated for its use. Declining enrollments and increasing costs forced the closure of the seminary high school in 1989.
The Seminary College also experienced declining enrollments. In 1975, the Seminary College closed its academic program at Warwick Neck and began sending its students to Providence College.
The continuing decline in vocations also prompted the college program to move to Providence in 1983 where it was housed in the new St. Vincent de Paul Infants Home which had closed shortly before.
Bishop Gelineau and the Challenge of Changing Times
While the vision of the Church developed by the Second Vatican Council prompted changes that were disturbing to many and too slow for others, it also created new possibilities for involvement in the work and ministry of the Church for those who chose to continue practicing their faith within it. In June 1971, the diocese began a transitional diaconate program for those who were completing their seminary training. The transitional deacons spent about a year in parish ministry under the guidance of a priest-mentor before being presented to the bishop for ordination as priests.
In 1973, Bishop Gelineau also established a permanent diaconate program. After a two and a half year period of preparations, the first permanent deacons were ordained for the diocese in June 1976. The deacons were at first designated as assistants to the bishop and assigned work that was essentially diocesan in nature as chaplains to state institutions and nursing homes among other works. The official ministry of the permanent deacons was expanded in 1994 when some were assigned to assist in parish ministries. Also in the aftermath of the Council, lay people began to serve regularly as commissioned lectors and eucharistic ministers.
The diocese drew upon the experience gained in the diaconate program and, in 1979, began a lay leadership institute on an experimental basis. The first group to complete the two year program were commissioned lay ministers in the Cathedral on June 21, 1981. Lay ministers work in a wide variety of ministries in the parishes and the diocese. Among the ministries for which the Lay Ministry Institute prepared those who attended it was the work of catechist or even Parish Religious Education Co-coordinator. The Catholic Youth Organization also organized a program in connection with Providence College to train youth ministers to work in its expanding programs.
The increase in the number of children in the general population from the 1950s through the 1970s caused parish religious education programs to grow even more quickly than did the parish schools. In order to meet the need to instruct larger numbers of children and to do so in the spirit of Vatican II, many pastors hired religious and lay people to work with them in the area of religious education, especially in the sacramental preparation programs.
While the popularity and the success of parish missions which for sixty years or more had been important parts of the religious life of the parishes waned somewhat is the years after the Vatican Council, a variety of spiritual enrichment programs and movements arose. In the 1964 the first “Cursillo” or “Little Course in Christianity” was offered in the diocese at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Manville. The Catholic Family Movement, which was an outgrowth of the work Fr. Arthur Bienvenue began in the 40s, spread beyond the French-Canadian parishes in the 1960s to be play an influential role in the life of many Catholic couples as did the contemporary Cana Movement and later Marriage Encounter program. The Genesis II and Renew Programs also encouraged active lay involvement in the parishes and elsewhere as the CYO’s Search Program did among teenagers.
Some of those who were involved in the Cursillo Movement and who participated in the Search and Inner City Programs began in 1967 to gather for prayer along with Fr. John Randall, one of the priests who was working with them. The pastor of Holy Ghost parish on Federal Hill in time offered Fr. Randall’s group the use of his hall for a weekly prayer meeting that was soon attracting hundreds. In 1971, St. Patrick’s Parish, Providence, became the focus of the charismatic movement which the prayer group had become. The movement would attract other priests and have an continuing impact on thousands in the diocese.
Among the important changes that occurred in the diocese beginning in the 1960s was that Rhode Island once again experienced the settlement of large numbers of immigrants. A significant increase in the number of immigrant from the Cape Verde islands and the availability of a priest who spoke their dialect enabled Bishop Gelineau, in August 1974, to create the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community for them which secured a former synagogue in Pawtucket for use as a church in 1979.
Four years earlier, Bishop McVinney had appointed Fr. Raymond Tetrault Director of the Latin-American Apostolate in the diocese The Hispanic immigrants the apostolate served came from many different nations among them Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Bolivia and Costa Rica. In 1985, a study committee recommended to Bishop Gelineau that rather than create new Hispanic parishes for the immigrants the Church of Providence should reach out to them through Spanish-speaking clergy and pastoral assistants and welcome them as part of existing parishes. The 1970s also saw a significant number of immigrants from Southeast Asia come to the state. Although only a small number of the immigrants from Southeast Asia were Catholics, the diocese offered what help it could in making the necessary adjustments to their new homeland. One diocesan priest, Fr. William Tanquay, began a national leader in outreach efforts aimed at refugees from Cambodia.
While the diocese experienced many positive and uplifting moments since the Vatican Council, it also experienced pain. Ten priests of the diocese since 1985 have been accused of sexual molestation. Three of them have been found guilty and sent to jail. Rumors that he had been questioned by the police and was about to be reassigned even touched Bishop Gelineau. The bishop initially thought it best to ignore the rumors, but, when they persisted, his concern for the diocese prompted him to give a televised interview in April 1986. The interview gave him the opportunity to assert the absolute falsity of the rumors. The interview also occasioned an outpouring of support for the bishop for many different segments of the state’s population.
Bishop Angell’s appointment to the Diocese of Burlington, while a happy event, deprived Bishop Gelineau of his valuable assistance at a time when the arthritis from which the bishop suffered soon forced him to undergo knee replacement surgery. In 1995, the Holy Father granted Bishop Gelineau’s request for the appointment of a coadjutor bishop and Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, the Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, became coadjutor Bishop of Providence. Bishop Mulvee was formally welcomed to the diocese on March 27, 1995.
As an outgrowth of the Strategic Planning process, Bishop Gelineau established in 1992, the diocese had embarked on a forty million dollar, three year Vision of Hope Campaign in February 1995. Each parish was assigned a specific goal and hundreds of volunteers asked their fellow Catholics and fellow Rhode Islanders to pledge monies over the three year period. The campaign proved a success as the pledges exceeded the campaign’s goal by a good margin. The monies made available by the Vision of Hope campaign enabled the diocese and its parishes to better support older projects and undertake new initiatives.
The decline in the number of priests available to serve the diocese and the evolution of the populations of some of the state’s cities prompted the clergy who served the parishes which were experiencing change and decline to suggest new models for staffing parishes and combining pastoral services. On July 1, 1997, three parishes in Central Falls, Holy Trinity, Notre Dame and St. Matthew’s, the first originally an “Irish” parish, but one which had come to have a large Spanish speaking population, and the other two originally French Canadian parishes, merged to form the Holy Spirit Catholic Community. The following year, a similar merger took place in Woonsocket, when again on July 1, Our Lady of Victories, St. Aloysius and St. Ann’s parishes, all of which had originally been French Canadian parishes, merged.
As had other bishops before him, Bishop Mulvee asked Rome for the help of a fellow bishop in administering the diocese. On December 1, 1998, Pope John Paul II designated Msgr. Robert J. McManus, a native Rhode Islander and the diocese’s Vicar General for Education, as auxiliary bishop. Msgr. McManus was ordained a bishop in the Cathedral on February 22, 1999.